Safety update

April 2002 Visibility of kayaks

This safety update is issued to raise awareness of the potential serious risk to safety from collisions involving kayaks and other vessels. It provides safe practice tips for how best to reduce the risks involved and to alert people to the risk to safety associated with kayaks.

This safety update is for

  • Kayak skippers
  • Skippers of all vessels


There have been a number of collisions and many near miss situations involving kayaks and other vessels on lakes, bays and on the coast.

Precautions and procedures

It is the duty of every vessel's skipper to keep a careful lookout using all available means. Power craft must give way to kayaks. However, in reality it is very difficult, and at times almost impossible, to see kayaks at a distance of more than a few metres. Kayaks are very low on the water, easily lost from sight amongst even small waves, and do not appear on radar screens.

It is essential, therefore, that kayak skippers make sure they can be readily seen by the operators of other vessels. While brightly coloured hulls and clothing assist to some degree, a much more effective means of being seen is required.

Safe practice tips

A brightly coloured (orange or yellow) flag on a whip or thin pole at least one metre high and brightly coloured paddle blades both assist greatly if kayaks are to be seen at a safe distance by day.

It is necessary for kayaks to carry a light when operating at night or during twilight. Unless sidelights and a sternlight are displayed, a white light must be displayed in sufficient time to prevent a collision. Kayaks should carry a bright torch to shine so that other vessels will be aware of their position.

The practice of carrying a flashing light or strobe light is dangerous. Such lights are used to indicate a person in the water after falling overboard. Other vessels are likely to investigate allowing close quarters situations to develop.

Original source content - Boat Notice 032002, April: Visibility of kayaks.

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