Is It Legal to Kayak at Night (Light Requirements & Tips)

Kayaking is typically considered an activity that’s done in the day. However, some people like to go kayaking at night when the stars are shining in the sky. There are a few things you should know before going kayaking at not.  

Firstly, it is not easy to go kayaking at night, and you should be aware of the rules and regulations.

This article will discuss if kayaking at night is legal and how you can do kayaking at night.

Man kayaking at night

One of the most commonly asked questions is whether kayaking at night is legal or not? Generally, the USGC has not declared kayaking at night illegal. Nonetheless, each state has a different set of rules, and you need to be aware of them before going kayaking at night.

According to Rule 25 listed by the USGC (Sailing Vessels and Vessel under Oars), a vessel or boat under oars needs to have the prescribed light. If the boat is without the prescribed white light, it should have a lighted lantern or electric torch, which shall be exhibited to avoid a collision.

All non-motorized vessels like kayaks, which have a length of fewer than seven meters, are classified as vessels under oars.

Some Factors to Consider

We recommend meeting regulatory requirements; please consider these factors:


The paddler is responsible for compliance with the USGC navigation rules and regulations. The inland water regulation for each state should also be followed. For international waters, you need to follow international and SOLAS laws. However, all these rules and regulations are subject to change.


A paddler should consider visibility before going out kayaking at night. In addition, you should meet the light requirements established by the USGC and the requirements of the environment. Therefore, you should always have sufficient lighting in the kayak.

Night Vision

You should not display additional lights when you’re kayaking. These lights can impair the vision of other kayakers. High-intensity lights or spotlights are discouraged, so avoid using them.


Without proper understanding, you should not display colour or light while kayaking at night. You have no idea how paddlers or boaters will interpret those signals.


Man kayaking in a dark tunnel

When paddling inland, especially in waterways restricted to other canoes and kayaks:

When paddling inland, the lighting needs vary significantly. In the United States, to be aware of the light requirements, you will need to get in touch with the USCG and the waterway regulator of your state to ensure you are following the rules and respecting other paddlers.

The inland boat navigation rules in the United States vary from state to state. However, the minimum requirement for kayaks and canoes comply with the USCG rules. The requirements are to carry a white light lantern or torch, which shall be exhibited to prevent a collision.

On waters that are restricted canoes and kayaks, the minimum requirement is a handheld 360-degree waterproof flashlight.

If you want to mount a light on your kayak to be visible to everyone, you must consider the night vision of other paddlers and yours. You should also examine the available starlight and moonlight.

Usually, the light from the moon and stars is insufficient, so you need to use other types of lights. A light that reflects from a source or is placed in the line of sight will obstruct the night vision. Therefore, you should carefully consider the installation and placement of the light.

Some states, such as Texas, require the light to be visible at all times, even in waters that are restricted to canoes and kayaks. If you place a light on your deck, it should be tall enough to be visible. If you are anchored in an area restricted to canoes and kayaks, you should use a 360 degree light. Anchoring is typically not a problem for paddlers; in fact, most paddlers don’t even anchor their kayak.

Red and green lights are not required; however, you can still install these lights on your kayak. Generally, red and green lights are not recommended for kayaks in waters with other boaters.

If you install red and green lights in the kayak, you need to ensure their precise placement. The USGC will place the kayak out of compliance if the red and green lights are not installed precisely.

When paddling in waters shared by sailboats and powerboats:

First, you must meet the local navigation and paddling rules and regulations in low visibility conditions, such as rain, fog, etc. However, please remember that the USGC regards sunset to sunrise as night.

It is not recommended to go kayaking in conditions with limited visibility, especially in waters navigated by powerboats and sailboats, unless you are an experienced paddler and can read navigation signals and lights.

Inexperienced paddlers should avoid kayaking at night in waters shared by powerboats and sailboats. In addition, you should always consider maintaining visibility in different scenarios, such as light failure or accidents.

It is recommended that you should mount a light on the kayak. The light should have a secure base. Don’t place lights that come with a suction cup base; use those that have a magnetic base. The magnetic base lights are sturdy and can sustain impacts.

The light should be turned on at all times and should be within your reach. To protect the night vision, you should use 360 degrees lighting. The light should be mounted behind you, as your head will shield it, and it will not be an obstruction for other paddlers and boaters.

If you opt for a light attached to a tall pole, ensure that it has lenses that enable the light to go far. It doesn’t matter what type of light you choose; you should always consider how beneficial it will be if you get stuck in a situation where you need to be rescued.

If the navigation regulation of your state does not require a white light, you can turn off the light when you enter an area that is restricted for canoes and kayaks. You will then need to use the moonlight or starlight for navigation purposes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there Risks of Kayaking at Night?

Now that we know kayaking is legal, we will discuss the risks associated with kayaking at night. While kayaking at night is usually a wonderful experience, there you are, always taking risks. Some dangers of kayaking at night are:


It is tough to see objects and vessels in the water when it is dark. You need to be aware of your surroundings when kayaking at night. You will need to be constantly vigilant to reduce colliding with a boat or an object.

Getting Lost

Navigating the waters at night is highly challenging and is different from navigating in the day. When paddling at night, you need to interpret navigation lights and read charts. However, you shouldn’t have any problems kayaking at night if you can do that.


While hyperthermia can also happen during the day, it because a much more severe threat at night. At night, the temperatures are typically colder than in the day, so you need to wear thick clothes to protect yourself from the cold weather.

Long Rescue Time

For rescue teams, it takes longer to find boats, canoes or kayaks at night. However, if you have the proper safety equipment and tools, you can be visible in the water and increase the chances of rescue.

Changing/Adverse Weather Conditions

A change in the weather can make matters worse for you because of poor visibility. In the day you can easily see the weather conditions changing, at night you can’t. Honestly, bad weather conditions at night can transform an ordinary situation into a life-threatening one.

It is essential to study the weather forecast before going kayaking at night. If you don’t check the weather forecast and go kayaking in poor conditions, things can get ugly quickly.

Obstacles in the Water

There are two obstacles under the water that are dangerous for paddlers at night. These are the obstacles you need to vary of:

  • Sweepers
  • Strainers

You need to know how to avoid them or damage your kayak. Strainers are obstacles that are a type of solid object. Strainers are found underwater, and the water passes through them. Since the water passes through the strainers, they are nearly invisible. If your kayak comes in contact with a strainer, it will get damaged.

In difficult situations, your kayak can sink, and the passengers on-board can get seriously injured. The best way to deal strainers is to identify them as soon as possible. On the other hand, Sweepers are different from strainers because they are typically visible.

However, because sweepers are visible doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. On the contrary, sweepers can cause as much damage as strainers. Usually, tree branches are called sweepers, and these branches have fallen from the tree in the water, where they have become an obstacle.

Some paddlers mistake pushing the sweepers aside, but their kayak gets tangled in the sweeper. Once the kayak gets entangled in the sweeper, it is tough to free it.

Any additional Gear for Kayaking at Night?

While most paddlers keep a powerful light when going kayaking at night, there are other pieces of equipment that they should stay as well:


The USGC (United States Coast Guard) states that all vessels and kayaks should carry a whistle or a sound-making device. A whistle, when attached to the PFD, creates a sound signal. However, if you are paddling in a crowded area, you should have a waterproof signal horn. This horn is essential in low-visibility conditions, especially at night.


You should always have a PFD a life jacket when you are on your kayak. Even if the local rules don’t require you to wear a PFD, you should still have one. While paddling at night, ensure that you are wearing a life jacket.

Water Activated PFD Light

In addition to the standard lights, you should also bring compact water activated PFD light when you go kayaking at night. This small light will attach to the PFD and make it easier for rescuers to get to you.

This tool will also be helpful when you go kayaking offshore. Apart from the water activated PFD light, you should also have the Energy position indicating radio beacons (EPIRB), so in an emergency, you can send a distress signal.

Compact Flares

If you plan to spend a lot of time kayaking, especially at night, you should have a few flares in the kayak. You can also keep a small flare in the pocket of the life jacket, which will enable you to attract the attention of the rescuers.

Rescue Knives

You should always have a rescue knife when kayaking. A rescue knife is a valuable tool as it cuts almost anything and items such as lines and ropes.

It is essential to have navigation tools when kayaking at night. Navigating your way in the water at night is tough, so you need to have these navigation tools:

  • GPS Device
  • Compass
  • Chart

First Aid Kits

First aid kits are an essential tool you can carry in a kayak. While we hope you never have to use the first aid kit, it is a valuable tool. Please keep the first aid box in a waterproof container.

Why do people go kayaking at Night?

There are a few reasons why people like to go kayaking at night:

  • For entertainment purposes, kayaking at night is different from kayaking during the day. The water and the environment are tranquil and calm.
  • The second reason people go kayaking at night is the heat. For some people, it is tough to handle the heat, which is why they go kayaking at night. However, kayaking in extreme heat conditions can lead to exhaustion, dehydration and cause sunstroke.
  • During the day, wearing a PDF and protective clothing is nearly impossible because of the heat, so some people prefer kayaking at night.


In this article, we discussed whether it is legal to kayak at night? While we concluded that it is not illegal to go kayaking at night, it is dangerous. We have listed down a few obstacles you may encounter while kayaking at night. We have also given a list of safety equipment you should have in your kayak at all times.

Vanessa Hopkins

Hi, I'm Vanessa. Long-time kayaker who's proud to be part of this community. I strive to provide our visitors with insightful guides with the aim to improve their kayaking experience. I've been working with SunshineKayaking for over 5 years, providing world-class services.

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