🛶 Kayaking at night: Caution

BuoyThere is one reality to paddling at night.  A kayak is nearly invisible on the water.  A trained powerboat captain traveling on smooth water at a safe cursing speed on a clear moonlit night will have difficulty seeing a person in a kayak.  This is an assumption that I always observe when I paddle at night.

Many powerboat owners are safety minded, and they do observe the rule of the water for traveling at a safe speed.  The rule is that “Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.”

The fact is a few small lights on a 17 foot kayak less than two feet from the surface of the water will not been seen by a boat a mile away moving on plane.  Some LED lights produce a 360-degree light visible a mile away on a clear night.  In addition, some blogs have stated that a person can purchase a headlamp that is visible over a mile away (1609.344 meters).  I will explore that claim in “Kayaking at night: Gear”.  Unfortunately, most of these types of lights usually become apart of the nighttime clutter of land lights reflecting off the water.

It is the law that we paddle with lights on our kayaks.  And the lights do help other boaters see us when we are around docks, and boat launches.  Beyond paddling around docks and boat launches, small LED lights are useless kayaking at night in swells, twilight, in fog, and heavy rains.

I paddle like many of you in seas of three to five foot swells.  I also know that there are many people on vacation in my local waters who rent powerboats.  Many times vacationers do not know the water like locals and are prone to making mistakes when it comes to navigation.  I cannot tell if the person driving the powerboat is a local captain or a tourist.  Nor can I tell that they are sober.  I am not going to take the risk that the driver will stay on course and navigate the channel markers correctly.

Below is a video of us sitting in our kayaks next to a boat dock listening to a band.  Look at how difficult it is to see the slow moving powerboat.

This is why I paddle with caution at night.  I am always looking around and keeping track of boat traffic.  When I see a boat, I stop; focus on what it is doing, and how the red and green lights are oriented on it.  If the red light is on the left, the boat is pointed away from me.  If the red light is on the right, the boat is pointed towards me.  And even though I am lit up like a Christmas Tree and my paddles are covered with reflective tape I assume that the driver of the boat does not see me.  It is also difficult to gage distance and the speed of a boat at night.  Consequently, the best way to avoid a nighttime collision is to keep my distance from powerboats and to avoid the five common risks to paddlers (10 May 2009).


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