Night Kayaking – is kayaking at night illegal?”

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Night Kayaking – Is kayaking at night illegal? 


Night kayaking is an example of a nighttime activity that has an inherent charm that is completely different from daytime activities. Even a mundane act of walking can be more memorable when it is undertaken in the night.  

And kayaking is no different. Night kayaking combines exhilaration, caution, and enchantment quite seamlessly. It is not for a beginner nor is it to be undertaken alone. But night paddling and kayaking hold a certain degree of challenge and temptation for many kayakers. 

But wait, is it Legal?

Despite its enchantment, there is always an important question associated with this nocturnal activity. Is kayaking at night legal?  

In this post, I attempt to answer this question, along with a few others. Let’s begin.  

Is kayaking at night legal? 

  • A straightforward answer? Yes. Kayaking at night is legal. 

However, there are some requirements for obvious safety reasons. They include: 

  • Light for visibility – It is crucial that you make yourself seen so that you do not put yourself at risk. Some experts suggest installing green and a red light on either side of the boat to indicate which side you will turn.  


Additionally, it is required by the Coast Guard that you have a white light such as a lantern or a torch that can be seen from all directions. I personally think abiding by the law is safer.  

The United States Coast Guard prescribes vessels under 23 feet as ‘vessels under oars.’ Since kayaks fall under this measurement, white light is a must requirement.  

  • Observing the local law – Although there is no such rule that makes kayaking at night as an illegal activity, there are different rules about night time activity in each state. It is mainly related to visibility and safety, so it is always wise to check with the local authorities before you take your kayak out into the river at night.  

Why go kayaking at night? 

  • There are several reasons why kayaking at night is unlike anything you can do with a kayak during the day. Let’s take a look. 

1 – Nightly activity. 

There is something inexplicably serene and awe-inspiring when you witness the night sky in full bloom. When the moon and the stars have come out to display their majesty, it warrants respect and marvel. 

The open water body, such as an ocean or a sea, offers one of the best views for the night sky. And kayaking at night is a great way to experience it. 

2 – Watch bioluminescence. 

If you haven’t heard about bioluminescence, you should make it a point to explore it at least once. It is a natural activity where hoards of bioluminescent organisms called dinoflagellates gather on the shore of water bodies. This spectacular phenomenon can only be appreciated in all its glory at night.  

Another way to enhance this once in a lifetime experience is to kayak using a transparent boat. These boats are typically made of polycarbonate sheets and fiberglass, which are a clear and steady material. This experience is best experienced personally as no words can quite describe its magic. 

3 – Less traffic. 

For obvious reasons, there are fewer chances of running into other boats and watercraft at night. You can paddle and kayak at leisure and feel your stress fade away.  

The only advice I would like to add is to have the right gear and be properly attired so you can paddle without compromising your safety.  

What should kayakers display at night? 

  • All kayakers should display a white light that can be seen in sufficient time by other kayakers. This light should have 360-degree visibility. This is a requirement dictated by the United States Coast Guard. 

The best light for night kayaking is one that has 360 degrees of visibility and is also waterproof. This light should also be visible from about 1 mile away. Some states also require you to have glow lights attached to the stern of the boat as well as the PFD. 

It is also a good idea to have a headlamp ready. A headlamp that is waterproof is ideal. A headlamp will make it easy for you to board and land your boat and also make activities such as reading maps easier.  

However, having the headlamp switched on all the times reduces visibility at night. Therefore it is best to keep it off and ready to switch on whenever you need it.  

On the other hand…

Additionally, you also need a couple of light sources to see your surroundings as well. This can include the headlamp, flashlight, and backup light, which should be packed inside a dry bag. 

An emergency strobe light strapped on the outside of your PFD is also an excellent option. This emergency light can come in particularly handy when you need to signal to larger boats and ships.   


What is bioluminescent kayaking?  

  • Bioluminescent kayaking refers to the process of kayaking at night in those bodies of water that have bioluminescent activity. This category of kayaking is best experienced at night when the bioluminescent activity is at its peak.  

Bioluminescent kayaking is typically done in clear kayaks. If you have never seen one of these kayaks, you can see them on Amazon. These kayaks are made of clear and sturdy materials such as polycarbonate sheets, which are even used in the cockpits of airplanes. Some of the boats have a clear bottom, while others have a full transparent body. 

This unique display of algae in the water is at its peak during the warmer months when the algae population is most active.  

Of course, you can also witness bioluminescent kayaking during the winter as well. But it is not the algae that you will see during the cooler months — this time of the year, comb jellies are most active when the waters are cooler. Bioluminescent kayaking is best undertaken on those nights when the moon is not active. 

How cool is that?!

You might want to know that there are only a handful of places on the planet where you can experience this wonderful phenomenon. These are Florida Bioluminescence Bay in Merritt Island and The Tomales Bay in Northern California.    Learn more about this heavenly display and where to go  here.   

There are several kayak tour companies that offer this unique form of kayaking at very reasonable rates. If you are in any of the above-mentioned locations, rent a clear boat and grab this once in a lifetime opportunity.  

Do you need lights on a kayak? 

  • Yes, you need to have lights on a kayak, especially on a night kayak.  

You need lights for late-night kayaking for a number of reasons.  

One, you need lights to be seen by other boaters and kayakers on the water body. This can be a powerful light that you can shine so that other watercraft on their night adventures can see you and avoid a collision. These sources of light can also be glow sticks or powerful LED lights that you can strap on your boat or on your PFD.  

The most important feature of this light is that it should be visible all around. A waterproof feature is also a good choice.  

Don’t be a statistic!

Two, you need lights to see your surroundings as well as perform activities such as reading a map. A powerful headlamp that you can have on your body is a good choice. It need not necessarily have 360-degree visibility, but a waterproof feature is a must.  

This light will make landing and taking off a piece of cake. You can also use this light to take stoke of your surroundings and read maps as well. If the beam of light is particularly strong, you can use it to warn other boats as well. 

Three, you need lights in case of an emergency. In addition to having the above-mentioned lights ready to employ, you should pack a flashlight with fully charged batteries in your dry bag. This is your back up light in case something goes wrong, and you land in an emergency.  


The moonlight will provide some level of ambient light when you are out for night kayaking. But it is never practical or a good idea to rely solely on it. You should be fully prepared with the required lights, so you don’t put yourself in danger or endanger others as well.  

Another factor that you should consider is to consult the local laws and regulations related to night kayaking. Some states require paddlers to have specific lights on their boats while some don’t. So it is always wise to go through these regulations before you go out into the water.  

What color is a stern light? 

  • The color of a stern light is white.  

This white light at the rear of a watercraft is one of the most important sets of navigational lights. It functions as the warning signal so that other boats and other watercraft can take the appropriate action and prevent colliding with your kayak. 

The specifications for stern light typically depend on the size of the vessel, whether or not it is in motion or idle, and whether or not it is powered with an engine. For canoes and kayaks, white light is required to be displayed during periods of low visibility and also while paddling between sunset and sunrise.  


However, it is always a good idea to have a stern light attached to your boat at all times so that you can signal to other boats in time to avoid colliding with each other.  

The requirement for navigational lights is the same for kayaks, canoes, and small unpowered boats that are shorter than 23 feet in length.  

To learn more about the navigational light requirements for other types of boats, click here.  

What should I wear when kayaking at night? 

  • The right outfit for kayaking at night is usually determined by the season. However, the general rule should revolve around safety and comfort. 

For late-night kayaking, the best outfit includes the following: 

  1. A light base layer.  

If you are paddling on a summer night, a light t-shirt with long sleeves will suffice. But this is not the case in colder weather. A thermal base with long sleeves is the best choice. 

  1. Mid layer. 

You can skip this in the summer. In the winter, however, a woolen garment or one made of fleece should form a mid-layer. It will keep you warm and also wick away moisture at the same time.  

  1. Bottoms. 

Although it can be tempting to wear shorts in summer, you will be vulnerable to insect bites. Rashies or a long pant is a good choice.  

In the winter, thermal underwear is a must. This should be topped by a drysuit or a wetsuit for maximum protection and insulation.  

  1. Footwear. 

Irrespective of the weather, paddling booties made of neoprene is the best choice. They are waterproof, lightweight, and are comfortable as well.  

  1. Accessories. 

You don’t need much of these during the warmer months. But when the temperatures have dropped, every exposed part of your body must be covered. This includes your head, hands, and neck.  

  1. Personal Floatation Device. 

Whether you undertake night kayaking during the summer or winter, you should never go out kayaking without wearing a personal floatation device or PFD. Should you forget everything else, you cannot forget this life-saving piece of safety gear.  

I have a nice article dedicated to what you should wear and not wear.

Irrespective of your level of expertise and the calm water conditions, it is best to be prepared and dressed for immersion.  

Final thoughts. 

Night kayaking is one of the best forms of this amazing water sport. It offers you a great opportunity to experience night time differently. If you have the opportunity to indulge in bioluminescent kayaking, by all means, grab it. If you live in a tropical area, night kayaking is also a great way to cool off and escape the heat as well.  

It is a good idea to know the body of water that you plan to go to for night kayaking. Another tip I would add is to check the weather report, so you don’t run into any unexpected trouble during the night.  

The safety rules, including wearing a PFD, apply whether you plan to paddle at night or during the day. So grab your gear, a buddy or a group of friends who share the same passion for the sport and go kayaking to indulge in the nocturnal majesty.