Heading out for an early morning paddle through the soft mist might be one of the most peaceful and satisfying ways to spend some time on the water. The same can be said for an evening paddle, as the sun softly passes over the horizon and leaves you shrouded in the dim moonlight.
If you’re a kayak angler, then getting on the water before sunrise will let you get the jump on fish that feed in low-light – such as walleye and catfish.
Mounting one or more kayak lights on your watercraft will allow you to paddle safely in these conditions, and remain visible to your friends and other boats.
There are a variety of kayak lighting options to choose from – picking the right one for your needs can be a confusing task. I’ll break down the different types of kayak lights, their uses and how to pick the right one for your kayak, canoe or paddleboard.
Quick Answer: 6 Best Kayak Lights
- Best Overall: Kayalu Kayalite Kayak Light
- Light and Flag Combo: YakAttack VISICarbon Pro
- Best Navigation Light: Innovative Lighting Portable LED Bow Light
- Best Suction Cup Mounted Light: Kayalu WaterTorch 360° Kayak Light
- Best Lighting Kit: attwood 14192-7 Water-Resistant Deck Mount
- SOS / Emergency Light: UST See-Me 1.0 Waterproof LED Light
Why do you need lights for your kayak or canoe?
A good kayak light will make you much more visible on the water – which can help prevent collisions with other watercraft.
Not only will you be more visible to larger and faster motorboats, but you’ll also be easier to locate in case of an emergency.
When you’re kayaking in low-light conditions, even simple scenarios and plans can go a little pear-shaped. Darkness can make navigation confusing and disorienting – causing you to lose your bearings and get lost. A light mounted on the bow or stern of your kayak will make you easy to spot to any nearby kayaking buddies.
If you frequently go on overnight kayak outings then good lighting is absolutely crucial. You need to be able to signal your presence to other boats, as well as have some way of alerting them in case of an emergency.
Lastly, depending on where you live, local laws and regulations may require certain lighting. Make sure to consult your local state laws before heading out on the water.
Top 6 Kayak Lights
If you only get one light to mount on your kayak then this should be it. Manufactured from rugged, marine-grade components, this pole-mounted LED light can be seen for over 2 miles. It stands at 18” tall, which is tall enough to greatly increase visibility – but not so tall that it becomes unstable or disturbs your night vision.
The light is actually rated to withstand being submerged down to 1000 feet – hopefully, you won’t need to test this out! It’s also rated for over 100 hours of runtime on three AA batteries.
By far the most impressive feature is its ingenious mounting system. The mounting system utilizes an internal tension cable and steel clip at the base to clip onto an existing eyelet, D-ring or pad eye. This provides a stable mount that won’t come loose even if it gets whacked by a paddle or two.
It’s also more likely to bend rather than break – and performs better in a shallow water roll than a rigid pole. The light is also easy to turn on and off again single-handed, so you can maximize available moonlight during nighttime paddling.
- Buoyant and durable marine-grade construction.
- Industrial grade 360 degree LED light is waterproof and submersible up to 1000 feet.
- Tension cable mounting system provides tough and versatile mounting options.
- Not only for kayaks – works well on SUPs, canoes and small boats.
Light and Flag Combo
Combining both a high-viz orange flag and a bright 360° LED light, this floating pole-style light will greatly increase your visibility both day and night. The carbon fiber pole is fully collapsible, measuring 48” long when fully extended, and 14” when collapsed.
There are a variety of mounting options available, including Geartrac, Mighty Mount and most kayak track systems. If you don’t have a track system on your kayak or don’t feel like adding one, the Silent Snap foam base will also fit into most flush mount and tubular rod holders.
The LED will burn for 100 hours on the 3 included AA batteries, and can be turned on and off easily by rotating the top of the light.
Whether you’re a kayak angler or a recreational kayaker, this lightweight, low-drag light will make you stand out on the water and help to avoid dangerous collisions.
- Collapsible carbon fiber tubing is stiff and ultra-light.
- Low drag pole design won’t slow you down.
- Wide variety of mounting options.
Best Navigation Light
This little suction mounted nav light might be small, but it packs a serious punch. It’s perfect for mounting on the bow of a kayak, inflatable dinghy, or small boat. It features both red and green LED lights – which is standard for running lights on any boat.
The suction cup mount allows you to quickly and easily reposition the light – or swap it out to another watercraft. Unlike wired boat lights, you never have to worry about wiring malfunctions.
The suction cup itself is fairly sturdy and will stay firmly planted on any smooth surface. Even though the light floats, it’s still a good idea to tether the light to your kayak just in case it gets knocked out of place. There is a small hole drilled into the body for exactly this purpose.
The light requires 4 AA batteries (which are not included).
- Works well as a backup light for larger watercraft.
- 100,000 hours of LED service life.
- Shock resistant construction.
Best Suction Cup Mounted Light
If you’re after a well-made light that’s easy to mount to any smooth surface – then this is the light for you. Made by kayak lighting experts Kayalu, this light is tough, marine-grade and capable of withstanding direct impacts.
The suction cup provides an excellent hold – and works even better if the surface is a little wet. A built-in tether is also included, just to make sure it won’t get lost if knocked out of place.
The 360° white Lexan diffusion lens provides a soft but powerful light that can be easily seen from a distance but won’t interfere with your night vision. It measures 12” tall when mounted, which provides much better visibility than light mounted directly to the deck. An extension kit is also available if you want to extend the height of your light.
- Submersible up to 1000 feet – can also be used as a dive light, marker light or submersible light.
- Tough marine-grade construction.
- Suction cup provides excellent hold.
- Built-in tether allows you to easily lash the light to your kayak deck.
Best Lighting Kit
This two-part battery-powered LED lighting kit offers everything you need to deck out your kayak with both bow and stern lights. The white stern light is a 24” telescoping pole that can be adjusted to your preferred height, while the bow light has the traditional red and green configuration.
Both lights can be mounted by screwing down or using the included adhesive pads. Each light is powered by three AAA batteries and will last up to 150 hours.
These lights aren’t only good for kayaking either, they would work well on a dinghy, small fishing boat, or any boat without an onboard electrical system.
- Full lighting kit includes telescoping stern light and red/green bow light.
- Electronics sealed in shock-proof housing and shatter-proof lens.
- Two mounting options.
SOS / Emergency Light
This lightweight emergency light is ideal for strapping to your PFD anytime you’re on the water after dark. It’s ultra-compact, weighs next to nothing and does everything you’d need an emergency light to do. Keep in mind that it’s not meant to be used as a primary light source, only as a backup.
The light is turned on and off by twisting the bulb and comes with a lanyard cord and hook-and-loop straps for mounting to your PFD. Providing 28 lumens of 360° light, the light exceeds the U.S. Coast Guard visibility requirement of 1 nautical mile.
Available in both strobe and steady on configurations, the LED light has an IPX7 waterproof rating, which protects it for up to 30 minutes at a 1-meter depth.
- Available in both strobe and steady on configurations.
- Excellent IPX7 waterproof rating.
- Easy to use twist on/off cap.
How to pick the right kayak lights for you?
Picking out the right kayak lighting setup for you will depend on a number of factors, including your kayak’s size, boat traffic in your area and how often you kayak at nighttime.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types of kayak lighting options available:
A handheld flashlight or headlamp works well as a backup light and can be used to signal your position to nearby watercraft. This type of light meets the minimum requirements for a “vessel under oars” set by the U.S. Coast Guard rules regarding navigation lights.
Obviously, any flashlight or headlamp you take out on the water should be completely waterproof. It’s also a good idea to tether your flashlight or handheld lantern to your kayak’s deck or to your life preserver – that way you won’t lose it even if it falls in the water.
Many newer headlamps and flashlights also have a built-in strobe function. This can be useful when you need to signal your position in an emergency situation.
Deck Mounted Lights
Deck mounted lights will allow other boats and paddlers to see your position on the water. These types of lights aren’t designed to help you see your surroundings. They’re strictly for making you more visible to other watercraft.
The most common deck light used by kayakers is a stern mounted solid white light. These can be mounted directly to the deck in a variety of ways.
The most important thing to consider with these lights is 360-degree visibility. If possible, mount the light so it can be seen from any direction, and won’t be obstructed by your body or kayak seat. This is particularly important if you plan to set anchor for a while – which many kayak anglers tend to do.
Most states don’t require a 360° deck light, but several (including Texas), require one of these lights to remain visible at all times while you’re in regulated waters.
The other common deck mounted lights used by kayakers are red and green navigation lights. These are typically mounted to the bow of a kayak to enhance your chances of being seen on the water. They should be mounted in a manner that won’t interfere with your night vision.
Nav lights are generally not recommended if you’re kayaking in an area shared with motorized boats. Because there are rules governing the use of nav lights, other vessels will maneuver based on your usage of a red light, a green light, or both. If you’re not familiar with these rules, then it’s best to avoid using nav lights altogether.
SOS Emergency Lighting
Emergency lighting is used to signal your position to other boats and rescue crews in case of a serious emergency. These are typically small battery powered 360° LED lights that can be strapped to either the back or shoulder area of your PFD.
Some newer models are automatically triggered when submerged in water, so you won’t need to fumble around trying to activate your torch in an emergency situation. These are available in either a strobe or solid light style.
The U.S. Coast Guard rules for emergency lights require they must be visible for at least one nautical mile (1.6 Km) and from 360 degrees.
Even the best kayak lights won’t do you any good if they don’t stay securely in their place. Kayaking at night can get a little hairy sometimes – so you’ll want to make sure your lights can withstand capsizing, or getting smacked by a paddle or two without coming loose.
Suction cups are a quick and easy way to mount things to your kayak – but they’re not the most secure. Similarly to GoPro kayak mounts, they can be easily positioned anywhere on your boat, and even adjusted on the fly.
Consider tethering your suction mounted light to your kayak with a long lanyard. That way you won’t lose it if it’s knocked out of place. If you kayak with your dog, then tethering your light is an absolute must.
Several pole-style lights come with an option for mounting directly onto a kayak track. This is an excellent option – giving you a secure mount that won’t come loose no matter how rough the conditions.
These pole-style lights can also be mounted to an existing rod holder, or attached to a kayak crate with a piece of PVC pipe. Keep in mind that mounting it this way won’t be as secure as a tracked mount.
Mounting the light directly into the kayak’s deck with screws is a good mounting option if you don’t plan on adjusting its position later on.
This requires a little DIY, so it may not be ideal if you’re not comfortable drilling holes into your kayak. If that sounds like you, then go with the tracked mount option, as the holes needed are minimized.
Some kayak lights come with a built-in internal tension cable. This allows you to clip the light onto an existing eyelet, D-ring or pad eye on the deck.
This might be the best mounting option out there – as the light will bend over rather than breaking if you were to collide with a low hanging obstacle. As the internal clip hooks directly to the deck, there’s no chance of the light coming loose, like a suction mount sometimes will.
Whenever you’re kayaking in low-visibility conditions like rain, fog or darkness, you should have a well thought out plan. Make sure you know your route well – including any potential hazards and alternate routes. Mark your route down on a map or GPS so everyone in your group is aware of the plan.
Having a good idea of your average kayaking speed will help you determine how long your trip should take. Also, make sure to leave a float plan with someone trustworthy and include your estimated return time.
When you’re in an area that shared with powerboats you’ll need to be extra cautious. Stay close together in a group and always use the buddy system to make sure no one falls behind. Whenever you need to cross a boating channel make sure to stop and check that no boats are heading in your direction.
Of course, clearly displaying a deck light that’s visible from every direction will help you stay recognizable to passing boat traffic.
Maintaining your Kayak Lights
Maintaining your kayak light is pretty straightforward. In order to keep your light in top shape for as long as possible make sure to do the following:
- Before you get on the water make sure your light is functioning correctly and your batteries are fresh.
- If you’re going on a longer trip, make sure to bring backup batteries in a watertight pouch or container.
- When you’re done paddling, give your light a quick rinse and dry it thoroughly before you put it away. This is especially important if you kayak in a saltwater environment.
- If you won’t be using your light for a prolonged period of time (such as during wintertime) make sure to remove the batteries before storing.
Q: Do you need lights on a kayak at night?
A: Kayaks fall under the “vessels under oars” classification according to the U.S. Coast Guard. This means they are required to “have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision”.
These are just the minimum requirements. The more lighting options you have on your kayak the safer you’ll be. Also be sure to check your local state laws and regulations, as they vary from state to state.
Q: What should a kayaker display at night?
If you kayak in an area without motorized boats, then a handheld flashlight or headlamp generally would be sufficient.
If you’re in an area with motorized boats, in addition to a handheld light, mounting a white deck light that can be seen from 360° around it is recommended.
I’ve loved being in the outdoors for as long as I can remember. I grew up fishing, canoeing, and camping throughout the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. It’s what lead me to start this site and share my passions for fishing, diving, kayaking and more. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or (preferably!) preparing for my next outdoor adventure.