Anybody paddle in the dark?

Inland paddling
Post Reply
Posts: 178
Joined: Tue Oct 11, 2016 1:29 pm
Location: Chester NW England
Been thanked: 19 times

Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by seawolf856 » Thu Oct 13, 2016 1:56 pm

Hi all,
I'm new to the forum but not new to kayaking. My main passion is sea kayaking but I also paddle rivers in both river runners and sea kayaks.
Anyway, I am thinking of doing a few night paddles this winter to add a new dimension to this wonderful pastime and wondered if this is something that the wider kayaking community do on a regular basis?
I will probably not venture onto the sea at night but would like to paddle my local river (The Dee in Chester).
Any ideas or comments would be welcome. I just want to hear if there are any ideas or special considerations for getting the most out of a night trip.

I won't be paddling alone and I have all the safety kit and suitable equipment/clothing I would use on a normal day trip. The local river has no rapids or difficulties whatsoever (other than a few moored boats and the odd river cruise) so the water itself is safe.
I have a high power head torch and LEDs on my PFD. But I'm not sure if I will need to illuminate my way once my night vision has adapted. I know that for vessels at sea, any vessel less than 5m long is not required to have fixed navigation lights, I am assuming this is also OK on rivers.

As I said, any constructive advice or positive comments would be welcome.

User avatar
Posts: 444
Joined: Wed Jan 10, 2007 7:15 pm
Location: The Flatlands of Fife

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by Kizzie_St-As » Thu Oct 13, 2016 4:03 pm

Only once on purpose - we had a BBQ on an island in a small loch and paddled back in dark. You could see a lot less than I had expected, but we had a streetlight to mark where the slipway was that we were paddling to, so that might interfere with night vision? We all had glow sticks on our BAs - the ones you get in party packs that you make into bracelets.
Unintentionally paddled in the failing light and very near dark a few times - again, you can see a lot less than you think you can and your distance judgement is one of the first things to go. Essentially, take lots of lights and check everything extra carefully. If you're in a group, make sure everyone is still together regularly somehow - count glowsticks every few minutes maybe? It is pretty cool though, especially on a clear night.
Done a Scottish river not on the site? Message me!

Posts: 615
Joined: Mon Jul 01, 2013 5:54 pm
Location: Crawley Down, West Sussex
Has thanked: 15 times
Been thanked: 8 times

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by gp.girl » Thu Oct 13, 2016 5:12 pm

Buddy system or small sub groups worked well. It adds a whole level of fun to the Medway canoe shoots :)
I can roll :)

Posts: 1314
Joined: Mon Nov 21, 2005 2:55 pm
Location: Stroud & Cheltenham
Has thanked: 2 times
Been thanked: 5 times

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by twopigs » Thu Oct 13, 2016 5:31 pm

Go for it.....

Assign a number to each paddler and once in a while number one calls "One" and the group count up to the highest number. Adds a new dimension to "Come in number 9 ....."
Canoeing - bigger boat, broken paddle, more skill!

Mark Dixon
Posts: 820
Joined: Sun Oct 07, 2012 6:22 am
Location: Devon
Has thanked: 1 time

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by Mark Dixon » Thu Oct 13, 2016 5:34 pm

I have taken my 6 yr old granddaughter on a couple organised Junior Night Paddles where we paddle flatwater up stream from Totnes weir, have a fire, toasted marshmellows etc and paddle back. It is a magical night and our club usually have about 30 participants and most tape led fairy lights on their canoes or kayaks. Its an annual trip that was last Friday, we could barely see a thing as no moon or any local lighting, but everyone wears glowlights in case of a dip. You dont nesesarily need a powerful headtorch for flatwater as if there is slightest moon you'll be fine.
I do know a friend who bought a £200 headtorch and paddled the Upper Dart in darkness and he said it was fine.
I reckon as long as you stick to your ability you'll have a great time.

User avatar
Posts: 6275
Joined: Wed Jan 22, 2003 12:36 pm
Location: West Country :-)
Been thanked: 2 times

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by morsey » Thu Oct 13, 2016 7:35 pm

Harbour excursions, navigation lights for other traffic to see you.

Rivers with any complexity, you either need to know them well, or you need lights, or both. Twilight can be a flat out race to get to the finish before 'lights out'. (No light adjustments made to video in edit, what the camera could see is a fair reflection of how much our eyes were straining to see in the growing darkness) ... t_red.html
Some of these bad boys with waterproof batteries and a head mount to attach to your helmet, do the trick. There are cheap versions on ebay, but the battery packs can be a bit hit and miss.
Or if you want the Rolls Royce of lights, get an Exposure Equinox (Just don't lose it in the water).

Posts: 73
Joined: Sun Jun 03, 2012 11:11 am
Location: E. Yorks.

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by goatboy » Thu Oct 13, 2016 9:20 pm

Yes - flat water quite regularly, and surf from time to time.

Not much to add to the above, apart from checking beforehand that lights are completely waterproof. Lights on both yourself & the boat are a good idea. A couple of glowsticks taped to the paddle make it easy to find if necessary (& make for cool time-lapse photographs).

For surf, three different coloured lights arranged in a large triangle on the beach help keep track of longshore drift.


Posts: 62
Joined: Mon Feb 06, 2006 8:44 pm
Been thanked: 1 time

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by chilealan » Thu Oct 13, 2016 10:19 pm

I have just seen this post while sitting down with a glass of wine after our canoe club night ( deva canoe club) paddle down the Dee from Eccleston to Chester.
There are no problems on this section. Though check the tides are not going to be against you and the level is within your skill levels.
Apply normal safety rules and do not go alone.
Try and avoid using torches unless necessary for the best effects.

Posts: 130
Joined: Thu Jun 13, 2013 7:42 pm

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by sundaykayaker » Fri Oct 14, 2016 9:53 am

Try full moon nights. (With glowsticks and no head tourches.)

Posts: 9
Joined: Thu Jan 07, 2010 8:25 pm

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by ian.seed » Fri Oct 14, 2016 4:32 pm

Yes, back in the day I used to paddle a lot in the dark. Both with groups and solo on my local river, the Duddon. In the Lakes you have to take the water levels as they come.

I went by moonlight rather than head torches and the experience was fantastic so I did it a lot. Every sense is heightened - particularly sound which is amplified.
Some things that might be worth considering:

1. As others have said, it is pretty important that you know the river very well and are able to paddle consistently at that grade. Water levels can change of course and that can make a much bigger difference than it does for daylight paddling. Too low and there are more rocks to hit that are very difficult to see in the dark. Too high and there are more overhanging branches and strainers to run into.
2. Bear in mind that if you choose moonlight paddling then clouds can cover the moon. So you can go from seeing quite well - once your eyes have adjusted - to it being pitch black in seconds. On a river you might not even see your hand in front of your face it's that dark.
3. I'm in two minds about going with groups. I did most of mine solo (it's hard to find like minded people sometimes), although I couldn't possibly condone solo paddling in the dark! The thing is that if it is dark then it is hard for others to simply follow a leader - they have to make it on their own and, in particular, recover from hitting things they didn't see such as rocks, trees or getting the wrong line. Rescuing someone who you cannot see or hear isn't very easy and when you temporarily "lose" someone in the group due to the darkness it can get hairy for everyone. So it is best not to have an incident. So, I guess, everyone in the group ought to be at that "good" level rather than taking down someone who you think might do okay in daylight. "Good", by the way, is as much a state of mind as much as ability. Yes they have to be technically competent but also relaxed enough in their boat to cope with hitting thing they wouldn't do in daylight and recover from it.
4. I am now in my mid fifties, with a wife, family and grand kids. There is no likelihood I would do night paddling like that again. So what I did 20-30 years ago I wouldn't now and although that applies to paddling (risk appetite) I think it is probably more important for night paddling as little mistakes could have big consequences. It sounds pretty dangerous to me with hindsight.

Billy The Fisherman
Posts: 154
Joined: Fri Sep 07, 2007 11:46 pm
Location: Close to the Tyne

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by Billy The Fisherman » Fri Oct 14, 2016 8:01 pm

I’ve not paddled rivers in the dark but have surfed kayaks in the dark. Paddling through dusk is an interesting experience as you move from seeing the waves to simply feeling and reacting to them. I wouldn’t go out in big seas but working within your capability it can be very rewarding and gives a strong feeling of being at one with the sea. It sounds odd but is better experienced than explained.

Pick a beach you know, where there is either moonlight or a bit of light from streetlamps.

User avatar
Posts: 99
Joined: Mon Mar 10, 2014 9:52 pm
Location: Chester
Has thanked: 3 times
Been thanked: 1 time

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by Simongelder » Sat Oct 15, 2016 12:01 am

The other Chester canoe club, the competition-orientated one, paddles regularly at night on the Dee throughout the winter on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The rowing clubs are also out in force in the dark too! It is essential that you have a visible red light for the rear and white light front. There is a very real risk of getting mowed down by rowers or their support boats which zip about all over the place!
You will find that between the weir and the Red House there is a surprising amount of light on the river from the street lights.
Whilst the Dee in Chester is flat, when in flood it has a very strong flow. Getting tangled in the trees in the dark when there is flow would not be fun so make sure everyone takes special care. Reflective patches worn somewhere on the body and on the paddles are really effective at helping to be seen.
Front facing lights are more to help to be seen and too bright will ruin night vision. A bright head torch makes your hands, paddles and foredeck very visible and you can't see anything else!

Have ended trips down the Duddon and Tyne in the dark after misjudging winter light duration. Easy rapids in the dark are a real adventure! They sound much bigger and fearsome than in daylight!

Posts: 178
Joined: Tue Oct 11, 2016 1:29 pm
Location: Chester NW England
Been thanked: 19 times

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by seawolf856 » Wed Oct 19, 2016 1:45 pm

chilealan wrote:I have just seen this post while sitting down with a glass of wine after our canoe club night ( deva canoe club) paddle down the Dee from Eccleston to Chester.
There are no problems on this section. Though check the tides are not going to be against you and the level is within your skill levels.
Apply normal safety rules and do not go alone.
Try and avoid using torches unless necessary for the best effects.
Hi Chilealan, I am a member of the Deva Canoe Club and I have just been on the Deva club night paddle. It was my first night paddle and it was why I posted the question in the first place to see if anybody did this sort of thing on a regular basis, I just wanted to hear ideas and opinions really.
As you know, a number of us decided to paddle upstream from the riverside centre in the middle of Chester and meet the rest of the group at Eccleston for the return trip. We managed the upstream leg (approx. 5km) in the fading light and joined the group just as it became totally dark. The paddle downstream in the dark was a very cool experience, the group was large but we paddled mainly in silence. Conversation was muted as everyone took in the atmosphere. The hooting owls were an added bonus. I was surprised by the amount of visibility especially in the upper reaches where light pollution is much less. The moon was almost full and my night vision soon adjusted to a level where I could make out other kayakers and canoeists quite easily. Nobody used head torches and it was a better experience for that. Total distance was 10km, I averaged 6km/hr so it was a good pace coming back downstream.
Thanks for all the replies to my post. Night paddling is a different experience and I fully understand about the risks and safety aspects, but I would recommend it and I will be looking to do it again when the opportunity arises.

See you at the next club meet.

User avatar
Pam Bell
Posts: 471
Joined: Mon Nov 21, 2005 6:23 pm
Location: South Wales
Been thanked: 7 times

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by Pam Bell » Thu Oct 20, 2016 1:00 am

I've done a fair bit of paddling in the dark: sea, lake, river and canal. Usually in company, but occasionally alone.
Personally I like to keep torches available 'just in case' rather than use them as a matter of course, as I find they ruin the night vision, particularly when someone paddles up wearing a headtorch and shines it straight in your eyes! We use glow sticks sometimes - preferable to having to keep calling out and scaring wildlife. The only problems I can remember in about 30 years were seeing an overhanging branch too late to totally avoid it on a canal, and nearly getting swamped by a police launch on the Thames when neither they or us were showing lights - we'd assumed that anything bigger than us would have lights and they were presumably using stealth...
Go somewhere you know really well at first to help get used to the differing perception of distance and the different, or non-appearance of landmarks in the dark.

Posts: 905
Joined: Thu Oct 12, 2006 11:35 am
Location: Basingstoke

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by chriscw » Fri Oct 21, 2016 10:06 am

We often paddle on local canals and even the Thames in the dark. Key is DO NOT use torches you don't need them. Do take torches though and if there is any chance of other craft in motion do show navigation lights but try and keep them out of your eyelines. It is very easy to see which bits are water and which bits are not after just a few moments on the water. Its great fun and when you are quiet its amazing what you hear.

WSe also have been night surfing in the past, do keep an eye on where you are though as the tidal drift can move you along the beach.
Chris Clarke-Williams
Location Basingstoke

Paddling Interests:
Touring, Coaching Beginners (I am an L2K), Surf White water trips, Weir Play (I'm not good enough to put freestyle!)

Posts: 1582
Joined: Thu Sep 29, 2005 9:51 pm

Re: Anybody paddle in the dark?

Post by kayak1 » Sun Oct 30, 2016 3:26 pm

Here is a clip of night surfing half way through it.. in Aberavon, promenade lights help when really dark...not much surf but still good fun...

Post Reply

Return to “Whitewater and Touring”