Perhaps you would agree: there is a certain charm to night paddling. You and your kayak cutting through waters that are dense with the silvery reflection of the stars, the only sound being the soft lapping of your paddle breaking the surface.
Or maybe you’ve experienced what it’s like to have an adventure go longer than expected, forcing you to make your way back to camp under the cover of darkness.
Either way, you’d be wise to have good kayak lights for night paddling at your side (or in this case, on your bow). In the spirit of night paddling we’ve assembled what we believe to be the 5 best kayak lights for night paddling, breaking it down by style, performance, & versatility.
Choosing the Best Kayak Lights for Night Paddling
The two scenarios outlined above provide a good example of how the needs of individual boaters will vary greatly from person to person. For example, not all boaters will require bicolored lighting indicating port & starboard. In addition, some boaters may prefer the more temporary mounting capabilities of a suction cup versus more traditional clamp mounts.
Choosing the best nav light for you is all about matching the needs of your adventure to the features of the product. And lucky you, we’ve already done the legwork. Here is our roundup of the 5 best kayak lights for night paddling:
#1 Kayalu Kayalite Kayak Light
The professionals at Kayalu have been setting the gold standard for kayaking gear and accessories for decades. The culmination of their endeavor has led to the KAYALITE Kayak Light, one of the most popular nav lights on the market. It boasts of a 100 hours runtime on only a few AA batteries, meaning that you won’t get stuck out on the water with no way to light your path.
It’s hard to beat Kayalu in terms of product value, a lesson I learned long ago when trying out their impressive line of multipurpose mounts. Still, the real strength of the KAYALITE is its mounting design, which is unparalleled by any of its competitors in terms of durability and sheer ease of use. Though time will tell, this doesn’t feel like the kind of product that is going to give out on you anytime soon.
If the KAYALITE could use any improvements at all, it would be a little extra reach. Because the height is fixed and not adjustable, the light is unlikely to extend above the height of the average kayaker without an extension rail. In addition, if you don’t already have an eyelet or pad eye on deck, you will have to spring for the Kayalu Eyebolt Kit, but it’s a modest price for the upgrade.
Kayalu Kayalite Kayak Light
- Great mounting design
- Good battery life
- Non-adjustable height
- additional hardware required for eyelit mounting
#2 YakAttack VISIpole II
The fact that YakAttack is a relative newcomer to the kayak equipment industry (they were founded in 2009) has not prevented it from introducing a range of versatile and surprisingly affordable items. The VISIPOLE II is perhaps the flagship of these products, offering a bit more than your standard kayak light without much of the added cost.
First off, let’s talk about the flag. The bright orange design will make sure you’re visible in all sorts of weather conditions, day or night. The light itself is a solid 58’’ from mounting position, which means that you are getting true 360⁰ visibility, which is particularly important for higher traffic areas or on group trips where you don’t want to be blocking your own light.
Fiberglass construction keeps the VISIPOLE II nice and light and allows it enough flex that it doesn’t cause any trouble in high-wind conditions.
The one weakness of the VISIPOLE II is that the light is not as bright as those offered by Kayalu or other competitors. In foggy conditions this might lead to a reduction in visibility range, but for most applications it shouldn’t cause any noticeable difference.
YakAttack VISIpole II
- Includes bright orange flag
- Full 360 visibility
- More expensive than competing brands
- Light could be brighter
#3 Kayalu WaterTorch 360° Kayak Light
The Kayalu WATERTORCH 360⁰ can be considered the little sibling of the KAYALITE model, being a bit smaller and lighter than that model and featuring a more simplistic mounting system. As with other Kayalu products, the WATERTORCH utilizes a Tektite bright white LED, meaning that it exceeds US Coast Guard standards for boating lights and can provide about 100 hours of run time off a couple of AA batteries.
I can say this for sure: the WATERTORCH is built to take a real beating. Usually lights at this price range (one of the most affordable on the market) provide little in terms of durability and lasting quality, but the folks at Kayalu have held true to quality standards here, as expected.
In terms of mounting, a suction cup is never going to be as secure as rail based mounts or eyelit kits. Suction cups require non-porous surfaces to attain good suction, which means some boats may not be super well suited for it. I can say with experience however that she is not going to fall off idly.
The height of the WATERTORCH is significantly less than some of the pole mounted lights we are reviewing. This does mean that depending on your mounting location, some visibility may be lost in one direction or another. Personally I think the overall glow of the TekTite LED is enough to illuminate adequately, but some night paddlers will simply mount a second light as a workaround.
Kayalu WaterTorch 360° Kayak Light
- Short profile means not true 360°
- Light could be brighter
#4 Innovative Lighting LED White Case Stern Light
Innovative Lighting has been in the business of making marine lighting for over 25 years, so it is perhaps no surprise that they have turned out more than a few kayak nav lights in their day that have given their competitors a run for their money.
This light has one thing going for it that simply can’t be beat, and that is portability. It’s a mere 11 ounces, which makes it one of the most popular options for kayakers embarking on multi-day paddling trips. The remarkably compact size means that it won’t be taking up much room, either in your bag or on your boat. For small watercraft, there is simply not a better compact navigation light out there.
Now for the drawbacks. This light’s very low profile means that it can become easily blocked. That makes it more important than with other lights to make sure that it’s mounted in a position that will be most visible to other watercraft. The suction cup here is perhaps its Achilles heel; I would recommend utilizing an additional mounting method to make sure you don’t lose it in the water.
Innovative Lighting LED White Case Stern Light
- Shortest light; may require 2x for full visibility
- Suction cup could be better
#5 Shoreline Marine Portable LED Clamp on Navigation Light Combo
Unlike some of the other kayak navigation lights that we are looking at, Shoreline Marine / Propel Paddle Gear’s LED CLAMP LIGHT COMBO features bicolor lights for port and starboard designation, a feature that is not required for kayakers per US Coast Guard regulations, but can be incredibly helpful in high traffic scenarios. It also means that this combo pack will make the perfect backup light for any small water vessel.
Dual clamp mounts are sturdy and seem to hold strong in both wind and turbulent water. They certainly have a stronger hold than suction-mount varieties. The Shoreline Light is also a bit longer at about 36’’, which should increase your visibility to other vessels when you’re coming back after the sun has gone down.
It’s worth mentioning that the LED CLAMP LIGHT COMBO is by a significant margin the most affordable nav light system on the market, which has contributed to its enduring popularity by boating enthusiasts. As could be expected, the reduced cost might be one of the reasons that it’s not as durable as its competitors. While this isn’t usually an issue with a backup lighting system, serious enthusiasts may want to consider a more durable alternative, like the Kayalite or the Visipole II.
Shoreline Marine Portable LED Clamp on Navigation Light Combo
- Most affordable
- Includes bicolor port / starboard lights
- Not so durable
How to Tell if You Need Kayak Navigation Lights
For the most part, kayaking is a daytime sport, meant to be enjoyed beneath a warm sun on bright summer days. For this reason it is entirely possible that many kayakers will never have use of navigational lights.
On the other hand, more and more kayakers and boaters are discovering the deep tranquility of a pre-dawn paddle, or a sunset swim. In these cases lights are going to be required not so much so you can see where you are going, but so that other boats can see you.
Because regulations vary from place to place and conditions are prone to rapid changes, it is our recommendation that you do the necessary research in determining whether or not a light is required, and if so, how and where it should be installed. Kayakers who are enjoying high traffic areas like popular lakes and bays would do well to have even a small light available to them in the case that re-entry will need to be made under the cover of darkness.
Are all Kayaking Nav Lights Waterproof?
For the most part, kayak lights are waterproof up to a certain depth. This means that while they can float on the surface of the water without taking in any moisture, they are not designed to handle the increased pressures of deeper waters.
Though there are some exceptions, the large majority of kayak lights on the market are submersible & waterproof of depths of up to 1000 ft. And let’s face it, if you and your kayak are more than 1000 feet underwater, you might be doing it wrong.
Mounting Systems: Suction, Clamp, or Eyelit
There are a number of different ways that kayak accessories mount to the boat itself, each with its own considerations in terms of function versus ease of use.
Suction mounts are quite simple. They feature a dense rubber suction cup at the base of the light or light pole that is designed to grip hard to plastic surfaces.
Suction mounts are lightweight and easy to produce, which makes them a more affordable mounting system in most cases.
Suction mounts can have trouble with porous or uneven surfaces, so if your kayak is dirty or banged up you might have trouble getting a secure hold. They are also prone to being knocked off by the errant tails of an over-excited dog, so be wary.
Clamp mounts were until recent years the industry standard, however, they are becoming less and less common in the age of suction cups and track-based systems. They work just like you would expect, with a crankable clamp that ‘bites down’ onto your boat.
Well made clamp mount systems can offer impressive grip strengths, and are usually made of heavy duty components so you can count on them to last longer than rubber suction cups.
Clamps are both bulky and heavy, which can be an issue for long distance trips. They are also quite limited on exactly where they can be mounted, which makes them less versatile that suction cups or track-based systems.
GearTrac is the name of YakAttack’s line of track based mounting hardware, and it is listed here because of the significant jump in popularity that it has enjoyed in recent years. It consists of a mount track platform that allows you to fully customize where things on your boat can be mounted.
This mounting system is by far the most versatile way to customize your kayak’s accessories. It’s a solid construction and mounts firmly via screw.
The GearTrac systems require screw-in mounting plates, which some kayak owners may not be interested in because it requires drilling holes.
The Laws and Regulations Surrounding Night Paddling
Because regulations vary state by state, it is important to familiarize yourself with the boating laws and license requirements by state and see what is required in terms of kayak lights for night paddling.
In terms of federal regulations, the US Coast Guard certainly has an opinion on the matter.
From U.S.C.G. Rule 25:
“The required navigation lights must be displayed between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility.
A sailing vessel, or one under oars, of less than 7 meters in length shall if practical exhibit red and green sidelights, and a stern light visible from at least one mile away. However if she does not, she can have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.”
To sum it up: because the majority of kayaks are less than seven meters in length (Aleksander Doba’s 7 meter long distance kayak a notable exception) they are largely not required to have red and green sidelights as long as the boater has a white light that is adequate enough to prevent collision.
There is certainly some ambiguity as to what ‘adequate’ means in this sense, but I think most kayakers would agree with me that I’d prefer to not collide with another boat, and if slapping an LED pole on the front of my boat is going to help prevent that, then sign me up.
Can I Make My Own Kayak Lights for Night Paddling?
In this day and age, just about everything can be done DIY to some extent. Kayak lights are no exception. Because the regulations for vessels under 7 meters in length do not require specific lights to be installed other than a ‘white light’ to prevent collision, the construction and performance of your kayak light can be customized to your heart’s desire.
The exception to this is there are any local restrictions that aren’t covered by US Coast Guard regulations. Check with your local boating authority to make sure you are in compliance, and no matter what you do, make sure when kayaking at night that your boat is visible to other vessels for the safety of everyone out on the water.
Check Out This Video on USCG Regulations for DIY Kayak Lights
More Tips for Paddling at Night
Being safe while night paddling is about more than just slapping a light onto your boat and calling it a day. If you’re planning a trip that might go into the later hours, pay attention to these simple tips for night paddling:
Plan Your Route
If you’re just starting out, choose waters that are calm and familiar. Submit your boat plan to a friend or relative who is not accompanying you, in the case that anyone needs to come looking.
Review Your Plan Before Launch
Darkness can make everything more complicated, so it’s best to have everything double-checked before you push out to sea. Ensure that your route is agreed upon and the necessary gear is with you.
Be Careful Around Powerboats
Even if you have a good light, the low position of kayaks compared to power boats can make them difficult to see. Cross boat channels at 90 degree angles, and if you’re in a group, stay close enough together that you can effectively communicate.
Best Kayak Nav Light Brands
In terms of kayaking equipment companies, the enduring popularity of the sport has allowed young innovators and industry veterans alike to thrive in a market that is all about providing products that can handle everything that kayaking has to offer.
Since their formation, the Boston-based OEM Kayalu has been offering up sleek reinventions of classic kayaking equipment like deck mounted cameras, lights, navigation equipment, and much more. Bundled kits like the Backwater Combo Pack have made Kayalu one of the most popular one-stop-shops in the business.
Garage-founded YakAttack hit the scene in 2009, looking to make a splash in the arena of kayak angling. While a good amount of their gear is focused kayak fishing, many of their products like lights and nav equipment come in handy for kayakers of any stripe, which has allowed YakAttack to hold its place towards the head of the pack.
The Marine Division over at Innovative Lighting have over 25 years of experience in light design and installation. These were the guys that brought the LED bulb to the boating world, utilizing the low power requirements and long lifespan to revitalize a technology that was in dire need of an update. Today their influence extends far beyond just boats, but that hasn’t stopped them from making some of the most well-engineered products in their class.
Here’s the story, a little company called Shoreline Marine started a division dedicated to the repair, maintenance, and customization of kayaks, stand up paddle boards, and canoes. They called it Propel Paddle Gear, and today the name has become associated with their vast selection of equipment and gear, everything from fishing stuff to lighting to custom printed paddles.
Q: Am I required to have kayak lights for night paddling?
A: According to the US Coast Guard, boats of seven meters or less are not required to have red and green sidelights as long as the boater has on hand a white light that can prevent collisions. Because having a good light on your vessel can greatly increase your safety out on the water, we highly recommend that kayakers have a reliable light on hand if there is any chance they will be paddling in darkness in the presence of other vessels.
Q: Can my kayak light get wet?
A: Of Course! Though quality does very from product to product, I have never seen a kayak light that can’t handle a decent amount of water, whether it’s rain, rowdy waves, or a full on submersion due to total inversion. Here’s the thing: kayak lights are designed to hold up to regular water use, but when you start going deeper? Not so much. In fact, all of the lights we reviewed were listed as submersible to up to 1000 feet, meaning that you’re probably covered.
Q: How are kayak lights powered?
A: The large majority of kayak lights for night paddling nowadays are designed with LED bulbs to be both energy efficient and to increase batter length, two things that come in pretty handy when you’re out paddling the backwaters and unsure of how long it is going to take you to get home.
Because LED bulbs are such a small power draw, most kayak lights are designed to be run off of three AA batteries.
Q: How do navigation lights attach to kayaks?
A: There are all sort of different mounting styles when it comes to kayak navigation lights, so it is important to know what kind of conditions you will face out there so you can be prepared. Many kayakers believe that having a pre-installed mount on the bow makes it quick and easy to get the light setup when conditions change. Yet others believe in the lightweight simplicity of a suction cup mount.
The best light for you is going to be the one that suits both your adventure and your personal style, so take the time to research what’s available to you before you make a purchase.
Q: What About LED strips?
A: The installation of colored LED strips along the sides of kayaks seems to be a quickly growing trend in the industry. These strips provide an immediate boost of color and character to any boat, while increasing visibility for navigation and fishing.
While LED strips are an attractive way to make your kayak stand out from the pack, they are often too dim to be relied upon as a primary light for collision avoidance purposes. Because they are so close to the water it can be difficult for their emitted light to reach far enough to warn other vessels of your presence.
And remember, while bicolored green and red lights are not required for most kayaks, a white light is, as it has the best chance of being spotted through darkening skies or fog.
With all the different options out there, it is not an easy task picking one kayak light as the best of all of them. Because there are stark variances in adventure style, water and weather conditions, and boat setup, the best kayak light for night paddling is really the one that gets the job done in the way that best suits your needs.
For my money, it doesn’t get much better than the Kayalu KAYALITE. It’s one of the sturdiest options on the market and the brand has proven again and again that it is capable of producing a high quality product that works under a variety of conditions. Still, there is something to be said about true 360 degree visibility, and to that end the YakAttack VISIPOLE II is the only one making real waves. If you are regularly paddling in low light conditions in the presence of other boats, no other light is going to make you quite as visible as this one.
Whatever choice you make, be sure that the next time you are heading into uncertain waters, you have a good light available to show the way. Kayak lights for night paddling are a simple and inexpensive way to increase your safety in the water, as well as the safety of those around you.