10 safety tips for night kayaking: How to canoe safely in the dark

Feb 26, 2020 BY AWE365 Team

Would you like to know how to canoe safely in the dark? Then check out our 10 safety tips for night kayaking below.

How to canoe safely in the dark Pxhere Royalty free image from Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

Winter’s rubbish for kayakers! Bad weather and short days can seriously restrict the amount of time you get on the water. But that doesn’t have to stop you! We’ve already written about the gear you need for winter kayaking – so the weather won’t stop you! 

How to canoe safely in the dark

This time we are discussing paddling at night – yes in the dark! As long as you follow some simple safety advice and use the right kit, you should never get into bother.

The best thing is you’ll pretty much have the water to yourself! Plus of course you get to experience something different out on the water.

The wildlife changes at night – you might not see it but you’ll often hear it! Plus lights reflecting off the water can be stunningly beautiful. You’ll also be pleased to hear that the best kayaks for recreational use are just as good at night as they are in the day. 

10 safety tips for night kayaking

Here’s 10 safety tips for kayaking and canoeing at night. Read them, understand them, and follow them and you’ll stay safe while getting many more hours on the water.

10 safety tips for night kayaking Pxhere Royalty free image

Buoyancy Aid

Always wear a buoyancy aid or life jacket. I can’t stress this enough and yet still often see people paddling without them. If you feel like a fool, get over it. It’s better to feel silly than end up on a slab, or at the bottom.

This is even more important after dark as you can more easily become separated from your kayak or canoe. Likewise a nighttime rescue will take longer so effortless float is highly recommended!

Be well practiced

One of the most important safety tips for night kayaking is to be well practiced. If you are comfortable with your kayak or canoe and have confidence in your equipment accidents are less likely. This only comes with time, experience and lots of practice.

Expect anything

Expect the unexpected! And try to avoid silly mistakes that can be caused by the reduction of your primary sense.

Remain extra vigilant at all times for other craft, waves and wakes from craft that have passed you (even at a distance). Don’t forget the delay from them passing to you getting the wake – even if you expect the wake it’s still easy to forget what you can’t see…

Dress appropriately

Dress for the water temperature, and don’t forget the effect that taking a swim at night can have on you. Be prepared for the disorientation by practising ‘when things go wrong’ with your paddling buddies.


Always make sure you have a waterproof light source attached to your person (strobe, torch or light stick and a back up). So if you end up in the water separated from your kayak you have a means to be seen.

Attach a white light at the rear of the boat, there are plenty on the market that offer 360-degree light emission and sit above the deck increasing visibility.

On all kayaking trips at night, I personally have a head torch on my head all the time. But it is usually switched off to preserve my night vision. I use the head torch to make myself more visible when other traffic is approaching or in busy areas on the water and for landing.

A big part of how to canoe safely in the dark is being seen. So when kayaking and canoeing at night, attach reflective tape in at least 150mm lengths at different points around the kayak/canoe and paddles.

10 safety tips for night kayaking How to canoe safely in the dark Pixabay Royalty free image

Leave a plan

Always leave a passage plan with family or friends and do not deviate from that plan. Make sure it includes approximate ETA’s etc. You can also leave a paddle plan and contact details at the local coast guard station by phoning it in. This is encouraged if you are fishing whilst afloat.

Go where you know

When paddling at night stick to routes you know well. Also mark on your chart/map buoy positions and beacons that you can see.

If there is a beacon you see at night but do not know what it is, take a bearing from you to it in reference to a known point and research it. It’ll give you some practice at navigation and it may turn out to be the only navigation light you’ll be able to see if the weather takes a sudden turn.

Think about using a waterproof GPS. But make sure you know your compass and navigation skills first!

Check weather and tides

If you want to canoe safely in the dark you need to know the conditions. So always check the weather and tide times. 

Don’t use new kit

One of the best safety tips for night kayaking is not to debut any new gear after dark. If you’ve bought a new piece of kit always try it out before a nighttime paddle. This is not just to make sure it works, but so that you know how to use it before fumbling around in the dark.


Carry a VHF radio or mobile phone – preferably a rugged phone that is waterproof. And for night time use, carry illuminating flares (as smoke etc is ineffective at night). And don’t forget your usual safety equipment.

Cancel if you have to

Don’t be afraid to walk away from a planned trip if the conditions aren’t right. Or even land and wait it out in your bivvi if conditions don’t feel right. Or as a last resort ask for a lift from the other half or get a taxi, and return in better conditions.

Kayaking safely at night

If you prepare for the worst you’ll be ready for practically all that’s thrown at you. But don’t forget the object of this is to increase the amount of time you can spend on the water.

After you’ve done all the safety stuff and the careful planning it’s kayaking and canoeing at night is a really different experience. Chances are you’ll probably fall for nighttime paddling just as as I have.

We hope you found out 10 safety tips for night kayaking interesting and informative. Now you know how to canoe safely in the dark we’ll see you out on the water (with lights on of course!). Be sure to check out our kayaking holiday discounts – you could save a fortune.


Canoeing, Kayaking, Sea Kayaking
Night, Safety
Top 10s

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