I paddle at night a lot often as in the short days of winter, it’s another way to get on the water rather than not at all. Sometimes in late summer, night paddles are great to see the bioluminescence (glow in the dark phytoplankton). In either case, while night paddling, you have to use your senses more and keep an eye out for boats as not all use lights.

Sometimes I’ll stop and listen for motors, look for dark shadows of boats moving along, then proceed ahead.  Living in Seattle, I deal with urban waterway paddling daily, so my senses are always on high alert.

In the US, human powered crafts are required to show a non blinking white light in case of an encounter with another boat. This can be a waterproof LED or halogen flashlight or headlamp or one of the many waterproof lights available to attach to your PFD or board.

Lights used by Paddlers:

  • I attach a Guardian LED waterproof light to the rear shoulder of my PFD to alert those behind or the side of me without ruining what little night vision I have. I have a waterproof flashlight on a string in my PFD front pocket, in case I need to show it at an on coming boat.
  • Headlamp. Only issue with a headlamp is blinding a paddling buddy.
  • Kayaking deck light such as this one attached to the board by a suction cup placed behind you to avoid affecting your night vision
  • Solar deck lights can be too much light thus making it harder to acclimate your eyes to the dark
  • In some regions a red and green navigation light is required. These can be purchased at marine stores.


Use a waterproof laser pointer for immediate emergencies where a boat is coming straight at you and there’s no time to move. The best method is to aim the laser at the pilothouse of the boat, which has considerable effects in grabbing their attention. Only use the laser for this purpose, as the light is damaging to your or other folk’s eyes. Attach a string to the pointer for storage in your PFD to prevent it from dropping in the water.

I also attach reflective silver tape on my paddle blades on both sides which reflect a boat’s lights quite well. On sunny days, the sun will also reflect off your paddle and assist with boaters in seeing you. You can stick strips of the tape on your board if desired.

About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP and Kayak school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips