Night Kayaking – How to Stay Safe in the Dark

Have you ever wanted to go night kayaking but don’t know where to start?  If you haven’t ventured out for a little night paddling, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we break down kayaking at night so you can have a great experience.

If you have never paddled under the stars, you are missing out.  Night kayaking is excellent for a lot of reasons, including fewer people on the water.  Depending on where you are kayaking, you might have a great view of the stars.

When you kayak at night, you have to take some precautions to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable outing. With that said, let’s get right to it.

What is night kayaking?

It’s probably pretty obvious, right?  Kayaking under the stars is unlike a lot of other nighttime outdoor activities.  The moonlight shining on the water has a very peaceful tranquility about it. Typically you don’t have to worry about crowds of noisy people. It’s just you and the stars and the water.

You might have a small number of people around you, but they are most likely out for a calm night on the water like you are.  Night kayaking has a different feel to it than paddling during the day. 

Now that you are excited to hit the water, there are some precautions to keep in mind when you are kayaking at night.

Be seen

Although kayaking can be peaceful and relaxing at night, it can also be dangerous, depending on the conditions. You want to make sure you can be seen. 

Check with the local rules for your waterways when it comes to lighting.  You will probably need to have a light on your kayak so you can be seen. Having a light will help other folks see you, so they don’t run into you or run you over.

Dress appropriately

During the day, you might be out on your kayak in shorts and a t-shirt, but come nightfall, temperatures can drop. Make sure you have dressed appropriately for a night on the water.  The water has a way of cooling things off pretty quickly.

Even though you might be warm on land, you may end up being a lot colder on the water. Pack a dry bag with some extra (and dry) clothes if you get cold or wet.  Dress in layers too.  You can always peel layers off if you get too warm on your late-night paddle.

Stick to familiar territory

Although night kayaking can be a fun new adventure, it’s not a good time to try a new route.  When you go kayaking at night, stick to an area you are familiar with. You will have a better idea of what may lurk beneath the surface of the water if you know the area well.

The last thing you want to do on a night kayak is hit a rock or other obstacle that you can’t see.  You don’t want to end up scrambling to get back in your kayak at night when it’s cold, and you can’t see as well.

If you end up in unfamiliar territory at night, it can be hard to find your way back to your launch point.

Plan ahead

With any kayak trip, day or night, planning ahead is a critical key to success. Make sure your kayak has appropriate lighting so you can be seen on the water. 

Scout your route ahead of time, make sure you have items like extra clothes in a dry bag and a GPS if you can’t find your way back home. 

When you kayak at night, you might not be able to see your paddle, and it will be more difficult to judge distance.  It’s easy to get off course before you know it. 

Plan your route, stick to it, and make sure you have enough supplies if you get lost.

Tell others where you are going

Like with other outdoor activities, it’s always a good idea to tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return.  This is especially true when you are kayaking at night.  If you happen to find yourself in trouble, someone can get help. 

If you don’t let anyone know where you are going or plan to be back, you could be setting yourself up for a bad experience.

Safety gear

Safety gear is essential when you are kayaking at night. Here are some essentials you should consider taking with you:

  • First aid kit
  • GPS
  • Radio
  • Dry clothes in a dry bag
  • Whistle or air horn, something so you can be heard if you get stuck somewhere
  • Life jacket
  • Waterproof flashlight

If something goes wrong and you end up in the water or lose your way, you want to be prepared. 

Make sure you can see

If you will not be able to paddle under the moonlight, or even if you can, make sure you have a headlamp or other light to help guide you.  Even if you are in familiar territory, you still need to see where you are going.

A headlamp or flashlight will help you avoid obstacles and keep you headed in the right direction. Even with the light, you might not be able to see obstacles below the surface.

Watch the weather

It’s essential to keep an eye on the weather when you plan a night on the water.  If there is a storm in the forecast, you should pick another night. High winds or heavy rain can have a substantial negative impact on your outing.

Even if you think you can make it before a storm hits, think again. It’s better to put off your excursion than get stuck in a storm when you are on the water in the dark.

Have fun!

After all the doom and gloom of night kayaking safety, yeah, try to remember to have some fun.  A night on the water can be gratifying. Enjoy the stars and soak it all in.


Kayaking at night - stay safe in the darkPin

Kayaking at night can be a fun and rewarding experience.  The most important thing is to be prepared for whatever you might encounter. Make sure you can be seen by others and have your safety gear onboard.

Check the local regulations for lighting and other requirements.  Going out for a night on the water is a unique experience, and it’s a lot of fun. The moonlight, stars, and crisp air can be very relaxing.

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.