Evening and Night Paddle Equipment

Evening and night paddling can be a risky proposition or a pleasant journey. It all depends on your frame of mind, the risk you are willing to take, the weather, the tide, the location, the phase of the moon, the paddling partners with you, and the equipment you have on board. If this sound confusing, it should be. Like daytime paddling, it involves risk assessment. But every time we go paddling we assess the risk vs the reward. The main difference is in the evening or at night we can not see as well ,and others may not see us as well. But there are elements that come into play at night that help mitigate the risk.

On summer days the wind usually dies down in the evening. There will be less boat traffic to keep track of and the moving boat lights make it easier to pick out traffic. Where the majority of the boat traffic is non-commercial, as in Narragansett Bay, traffic quiets down except for the occasional fishing boat chugging back in. With cool air settling out over the calm water, a sound channel is formed which allows sound to travel much farther than in the daytime. You will be able to pick up power boats some distance away that you would not hear in the daytime. The only boats that make no sound are sail boats, but the visibility of their high mast lights and slower speed reduce the risk of danger to you.

Before I go further, it should be mentioned that there are many discussions and varying degrees of opinion on paddling at night. The rest of this page is my solution to the situation. Some people disagree with me, some say overkill, others say underkill. No pun intended. So before you read my opinions here are a few respectable articles that you may read. This gives you a broader view of the subject before you read mine. (Note: Some mfgs say that their gear conforms to CG requirements for vessels under oars, suggesting that the rules are more stringent than they actually are.)

Any area that you are paddling at night should be well known to you and or your paddling partners. You should have planned where you are going so you will know what to expect as landmarks or marine markers. If available, try using a mapping GPS to help you identify your location at night. Be sure to purchase one of the proper nautical maps that show the coastal contours, which means one of the commercial Blue Chart maps for your GPS.

Night paddling is not the time to explore new frontiers. But most people enjoy moonlight paddling, which probably accounts for 90% of the night paddles. These are the type of paddles being referred to in this article, but anytime when venturing on the open water at night, or when by some chance you may not get back to the launch site before it gets dark, you should be prepared to paddle in the dark. You should also be aware of any changes in the weather that might make any return paddle more risky in wind, waves and tide.

Everyone should assess how risky any paddle will be, that includes daytime paddling as well as evening and night paddling. The ability to assess a paddle is only gained by practice and experience. You will only gain this experience by daytime paddling in many different conditions and by evening and night paddling. So read the following and consider whether you are equipped to paddle in late evening or at night.

The conditions that are discussed in this page mostly refer to calm or light conditions and do not mention anything about waves at night. If it is dark enough to not easily see breaking or foaming waves, or ugly choppy water (around cliffs) then you will need something stronger than a little headlamp to paddle. If you can not see the wave action, paddling will be very difficult. You must see the waves to maintain balance. If you require low bracing skills to stay upright you will be in danger of capsizing. This means a really strong headlamp with a broad beam. Even a very tall deck light would be useful. Unless you know what you are getting into on a night with serious waves, don't do it.

The only requirement for kayaks in open waters at night to meet Coast Guard requirements are the wearing a Type III Life Vest, carrying a noise making device and carrying a flashlight that can be directed at any boat that might be on a dangerous course toward the kayak. The Rhode Island requirements are here. Fairly minimal requirements that can be improved on if conditions require. The following is a list of the equipment that you should consider using on late evening or night paddles.

rev. 7-11-2012