If you are a recreational kayaker, canoeist or using a low-profile watercraft on New Zealand’s lakes, rivers or seas, you can make yourself safer by ensuring you are visible to other boaties.
A combination of colour, contrast and movement will maximise your visibility – keep the following in mind:
Your head is your highest point, so make it as bright as is possible. Day glow orange or yellow hats are highly visible.
Motion is another important visibility tool. Because your blades are in constant motion while paddling, you can increase your visibility by using reflective tape on your paddle's blades or shafts, combined with strips of day glow tape. This combination will allow your paddle to catch and reflect sunlight, as well as create flashes of day glow.
Wearing a day-glow orange or yellow paddle jacket or over-shirt offers the highest level of visibility. If your torso is not covered in day glow, consider having a bright coloured paddle jacket that is a different colour to your kayak, personal flotation device (PFD) and paddle blades.
Choose a PFD in a bright colour. To maximise your visibility, consider having a PFD that is a different colour to your kayak, paddle blades and paddling jacket. Contrast the colours for maximum affect.
Day glow orange and yellow chopper flags provide a permanent bright flash at the same height as the rotational arc of your paddle blades. Consider always using a flag if you are fishing from a kayak in a stationary position, as you don’t have the additional visibility of your moving paddle blades.
Choose a kayak in a bright colour that contrasts with the sea and backdrop to give the greatest visibility. Consider adding flashes of day glow or reflective tape to increase your kayak’s visibility. Multi-coloured, bright kayaks provide increased contrast.
As a minimum maritime rules require you to carry a torch to prevent collision. However, holding a torch may prevent you from paddling effectively.
Wearing a head torch allows your arms to be free to paddle. In addition, mounting an all-round white light (or a red, green and white sector light) on your rear deck above head-height means you will be visible from all directions.
If travelling in a group, particularly at night, it is recommended that you carry two light sources, such as a head torch and an all-round white light.
When paddling in a tight pod, if the rear paddler has their all-round light turned on, the group will be visible from behind and other members will not be blinded. The lead kayaker should also have their head torch on and shining forward, which won’t affect others’ night vision. All paddlers should then only need to use their lights when there is approaching traffic. Don’t use flashing strobe lights unless there is an emergency.
Attaching reflective tape or strips to your kayak, paddle and clothing will maximise your visibility at night. Shining your torch across the reflective strips can also help you to be seen.
If you are paddling in an area and can see other larger boats that may not be able to see you, remember that many of them will have a VHF radio and be listening on Channel 16. A very brief message to all craft in the area stating you are on the water can alert others to your presence.
Kayaking – Paddling to be seen [PDF: 68Kb, 2 pages]
An overview of what you need to know about kayak visibility.
Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers [KASK – the national sea kayaking body]
Kask promotes safety standards, deals with issues of coastal access and protection, organises sea kayak forums around the country, and publishes "A Basic Guide to Safe Sea Kayaking", "The Sea Canoeist Newsletter" and "The KASK Handbook".
Kayak safety module – knowledge test [Coastguard Boating Education (CBES) online quiz]
A quick online safety module to help people get acquainted with kayaking basics.
Sea kayak short course [CBES]
CBES also offers a three-hour sea kayak course covering sea kayaks, equipment, communication, emergencies, planning, weather, rules, and navigation.