Kayaking can be refreshing, thrilling, relaxing, rejuvenating, and therapeutic, depending on where and how you do it.
But kayaking can also be dangerous, especially if you favor night paddling over daytime trips. The risks of becoming lost or remaining unseen by passing boaters are significant. For novice kayakers, it’s especially dicey.
One way to protect yourself and make your night paddles safer is by investing in a kayak light. Checking out the best kayak lights for night paddling means equipping you and your kayak for every eventuality. It also means more opportunities for adventure – in the safest way possible.
5 Best Kayak Lights for Night Paddling
Shopping for kayak lights can be fun, but it can also be overwhelming. For one, narrowing down the options can seem impossible. To streamline the process, here are the top options for the best kayak lights for night paddling. No matter your budget, style, or equipment setup, you’ll find the perfect fit.
1. Kayalu WaterTorch 360-Degree Kayak Light – Best Submersible Option
4 out of 5 stars
Kayalu WaterTorch 360-Degree Kayak Light Specs:
- Buoyant and waterproof to survive drops in the water
- Crash-proof body and lens housing
- Portable and handy torch function
- Runs for 100+ hours on one set of AA batteries
The submersible WaterTorch from Kayalu is a handy light for on- and around-water use. When you’re kayaking, the suction cup sticks the torch to the body of your kayak. But when you disembark, the lanyard lets you keep your torch handy.
An IPX8 rating promises your WaterTorch can withstand drops in the water (it’s buoyant) and prolonged exposure (up to 1000 feet). Its handy shape and size make it useful for other outdoor applications too, and the lanyard can attach to trees, vehicles, and more, too.
Long battery life means you can use this water flashlight for multiple excursions before it peters out. Plus, the LED should last a full 10,000 hours. That could take you a while to rack up no matter how many nights you spend on the water.
- Tough construction to outlast the elements
- Also works as a flashlight/torch for handheld use
- Floats but can take a dive without sustaining damage
- Only one light setting
- Doesn’t offer a spotlight-type feature (360-degree light only)
2. Goodsmann LED Marine Signal Stern Light – Best Budget Buy
4 out of 5 stars
Goodsmann LED Marine Signal Stern Light Specs:
- Tough ABS construction
- Five light modes, including strobe and SOS
- Suction cup plus magnetic base for installation
- Lasts about 38 hours on a set of AAA batteries
A solid budget buy with all the features you need (without extras), the Goodsmann LED stern light is rugged and functional. Its five light modes (three intensities plus strobe and SOS) ensure that boaters and other kayakers can always see you.
You’ll appreciate the suction cup for keeping the unit in place. Though, the ABS plastic is more utilitarian than aesthetically pleasing. You can also remove the Goodsmann LED light from its base to carry it along like a flashlight, making it more versatile than some alternatives.
The base is magnetic, so grabbing the flashlight for handheld use is straightforward. It may not look fancy, but for a dual flashlight and stern light, the Goodsmann is a solid option for most kayakers.
- More light modes than alternative models
- Removable flashlight-style light for handheld applications
- Most budget-friendly option on the list
- Not the most appealing aesthetics
3. Attwood Water-Resistant LED Navigation Light Kit – Best for Dual Mounting
4 out of 5 stars
Attwood Water-Resistant LED Navigation Light Kit Specs:
- Two-piece kit with bow and stern lights
- Red/green plus white lights for signaling and visibility
- Shock-proof construction with a shatterproof lens
- 150 hours of runtime via AAA batteries
Attwood’s two-piece light kit outfits your entire kayak for optimal visibility. A red and green bow light announces your presence while the stern light telescopes to suit your navigation style. The adjustable stand is one of the highlights you won’t find with many suction-cup mounts.
Plus, all the onboard electronics lie inside a sealed compartment. They should survive nearly any conditions on the water with ease. Dual lights put the spotlight on you (and your path), which could be handy if you’re not just paddling. Fishing, navigating, and snapping photos come to mind here.
The permanent installation mode (mounting with screws) offers peace of mind on rough waves. Alternatively, using the included adhesive pad lets you change your mind later. Either way, Attwood promises long-term reliability, so we might opt for the screws.
- The two-piece kit covers your entire kayak with light
- Option of permanent versus short-term installation
- Difficult (or impossible) to reach both light switches, depending on kayak length
- The adhesive can be tough to affix correctly
4. Shoreline Marine Kayak LED Stern Light – Best for Rough Water
5 out of 5 stars
Shoreline Marine Kayak LED Stern Light Specs:
- Water-resistant housing and switch
- Three light modes, including strobe
- Heavy-duty installation hardware
- Two AAA batteries last around 12 hours
Shoreline’s LED stern light is a specialized option for marine kayak use, so it’s understandably rugged. Water-resistant housing materials and a waterproof switch are perks. They ensure seamless performance no matter how windy or wet the conditions.
The hardware will make sure nothing budges when the water gets rough, with stainless metal that clips in securely. If you’re a novice kayaker or like to navigate in unpredictable water, you’ll appreciate this unit’s steadfastness. Removing it could be a challenge – which isn’t usually a bad thing.
Multiple light modes offer the peace of mind you need. The 360-degree light has three modes (on, off, and strobe) for simple operation, so nothing interferes with your night paddle. Of course, if you have an emergency, you’ll easily be able to attract attention with the strobe setting.
- Supremely solid construction
- Waterproof switch for ultimate protection against moisture
- Strobe option for emergencies
- Easy to install and operate
- Battery life isn’t the best
5. Innovative Lighting Portable LED Bow Light – Best Portability
3 out of 5 stars
Innovative Lighting Portable LED Bow Light Specs:
- One-piece construction
- Neoprene accents for shock resistance
- Bow light only
- Long-lasting LED light “sips” at AA batteries for months of use
When you only want to go night paddling in a kayak occasionally, you may not want to permanently install a strobe light. In that case, the Innovative Lighting bow light is an excellent solution. However, it is a lighter-weight one than the alternatives here.
A bit of neoprene helps with shock resistance, and the plastic construction keeps it on the more affordable side. There’s no strobe option or SOS setting. But for run-of-the-mill visibility, the Innovative Lighting bow light serves its purpose.
This unit might be best if you want to stick-on and remove your night light on a whim. The suction cup makes prep simple, and you won’t struggle to attach or remove it come kayaking time. And, a 100K-hour LED light and solid battery life ensure the unit is ready to go when you need it.
- Super portable and easy to store
- Exceptional battery life
- Long-lasting LED light
- May not stick on for long-term use (without adjustments)
What to Look for When Buying Kayak Lights for Night Paddling
Choosing the right kayak light is crucial for your nighttime excursions. But there’s a lot to consider, from what type of light to choose to the best way to power it. Here’s an overview of what to think about when shopping for the best kayak nav lights for night paddling.
- Longevity – battery life, bulb lifespan
- Durability – waterproofing, buoyancy, rust resistance
- Safety – light features and functions, plus emergency preparedness
Longevity: Battery Power and Bulbs
Your night light’s longevity is the key factor in the performance equation. A light that peters out before its time isn’t helpful on the water. Consider a combination of battery life and lightbulb type and performance when shopping.
- What Kind of Battery Life Can I Expect?
Battery life is one of the most important components of your kayak light. A short-lived battery means an even shorter kayak trip, so peak performance is desirable.
Look at the battery type each night light takes and its estimated run time. Various factors can impact battery lifespans, including exposure to moisture, though. Consider the battery life an estimate rather than a guarantee.
The battery type you choose will also affect how long your light lasts. Most of the lights here accept alkaline batteries, but you still have options. For example, lithium batteries handle temperature changes (and lower temperatures) exceptionally well. So, they are ideal for use in outdoor equipment. These types of batteries are pricier than alkaline alternatives, however.
Think about how often you’ll be kayaking at night and how the lifespan of your kayak light will affect your trips before buying your batteries. Carrying replacements may not be much of a bother but changing them on the open water will be.
- What’s the Life Expectancy of the Bulb(s)?
Another factor in the longevity equation is the life expectancy of your lightbulb. Kayak navigation lights typically use LED bulbs, which can last thousands of hours before dying out.
However, the lighting options may drain battery life and start the countdown on LED capacity, too. Running a strobe light for five hours, for example, takes more energy than the always-on mode.
Depending on the conditions you typically kayak in, you may want a light that can handle prolonged SOS mode operation. Or, you may only want an entry-level LED that can stay on for a few hours to guide your way.
Knowing how and where you kayak can help you figure out how crucial the bulb’s performance and lifecycle are.
Durability: Waterproofing, Buoyancy, and Rust Resistance
While most kayak lights are ready to spend time around water, it doesn’t mean they’ll float – or survive a dip into the surf. Waterproofing, buoyancy, and rust resistance are all vital when it comes to durability.
- How Waterproof is the Unit?
All kayak night lights are water-resistant, but that doesn’t mean they’re waterproof. Some devices can sustain damage if they bob around in the water. Others may be water-resistant, but water gets into the battery compartment with prolonged exposure.
When it comes to durability and water resistance, the Shoreline Marine Kayak LED Stern Light is a solid option for keeping the lights on. Both above the waves and in a deluge, the sturdy exterior of this model keeps on going.
- Will the Kayak Light Float?
Flotation seems like it would be a given in all kayak products, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Think about how you’ll use your kayak light – in-vessel only, or possibly in the water, too – to determine how important buoyancy is.
If a buoyant onboard light for night paddling is on your wish list, the Kayalu WaterTorch is your best bet. The device will float, resist water damage, and can swim to the depths without puttering out.
Other models may be waterproof and be able to survive a dip in the water. But heavier construction – from ABS plastic to metal and more – means most components will sink as soon as they hit the surface.
And, none of the other lights on the above list are buoyant per the manufacturers’ specifications.
You can always tie down your light, or at least attach a strap to prevent it from bobbing away, for an easy DIY fix to this problem. Still, avoid making repairs or adjustments while on the water unless your light is 100 percent buoyant per the manufacturer.
- How Often Do I Plan to Night Paddle?
Rust resistance isn’t something that typically comes on advertisements for kayak lights. But some devices fare better than others with exposure over time.
In general, choosing a unit with waterproofing should mean high rust defenses. Checking out the battery compartment is another way to predict whether your equipment will break down in fresh or saltwater.
If you don’t spend a ton of time on your kayak, you may not worry about your light developing rust. If nightly paddles are something you’re not willing to give up, rust can happen. Springing for a better protected housing and waterproof battery door should be a priority.
Safety: Light Features and Functions
It’s a light, so it needs to be bright. But what features and functions does a kayak night light need?
- How Many Settings Does the Light Have?
Some lights have a single setting for “on/off.” Others – like the Goodsmann LED Marine Signal Stern Light – have multiple modes.
The Goodsmann LED light has varying intensity settings for the “on” option, plus a strobe mode and an SOS function. If you need a full range of lights plus the ability to use your torch as a flashlight, this one might be the perfect solution.
Kayalu’s WaterTorch offers similar functionality, serving dual purposes as a flashlight. Though, its single light mode won’t help if you need an SOS. Consider the locations you kayak and what types of flashlights you already own.
- Will Boaters Be Able to See Me?
The primary function of a kayak light for night paddling is to ensure others on the water (and onshore) can see you. Again, based on where you kayak and when (seasonally speaking), you may find that lower light settings are sufficient.
Inland kayaking, for example, may be safe enough with a torch-type light. On a bay or lake with heavy boat traffic, a flashing beacon might be more suitable. Further, emergency scenarios call for highly visible lights, and it’s tough to predict when you might need such a function.
- Is There an Emergency or SOS Setting?
Preparing for emergencies is something all kayakers should do. In the case of night paddling, packing emergency supplies should be even higher on your to-do list.
Perhaps you already pack waterproof flares for your SOS calls. If not, it’s worth considering the what-ifs if you’re lost, injured, or capsized alone at night. Emergency or SOS modes on kayak lights usually involve fast-blinking flashes or multiple colors.
Check out the emergency and SOS modes on each device to see if they’ll suit your needs. If emergency beacon availability is a priority, that narrows down the list. The Shoreline Marine Kayak LED Stern Light and Goodsmann LED Marine Signal Stern Light have strobe/SOS modes.
Emergency Preparedness on Your Night Paddle
Purchasing a kayak light is one way to prepare for a safer kayaking experience. But safety extends beyond visibility in the dark.
While kayaking, you need to be aware of your surroundings. Familiarity with your equipment and being open to changing your plans is also helpful.
Plus, before you step into your kayak, you should always put on your life vest – even if you’re a strong swimmer. In most cases, state laws require kayakers to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation device while on the water.
Why? Because 90 percent of drownings happen to people who aren’t wearing a life vest. If you can avoid being a statistic by grabbing a life jacket, it’s worth the inconvenience.
Helmets are typically optional, and many kayakers only wear them while paddling in rocky areas of rivers and lakes or while on the ocean. However, some kayakers choose to wear their helmets every time they head out, which might be smart.
This combination of safety steps can help protect you while on the water. There are no guarantees, but following safety guidelines is prudent. You’ll have better odds of enjoying a thrilling yet danger-free kayaking experience this time and every time.
If you’re a kayaker who prefers paddling to fiddling with your onboard light, we have a solution. The Shoreline Marine Kayak LED Stern Light is the best kayak light for night paddling. Venturing onto the water in the dark can be dangerous, but with the Shoreline’s rugged design and high visibility, you can feel safe and seen.
For budget shoppers who need lighting but don’t want anything fancy, our runner-up pick is perfect. The tough and unassuming Goodsmann LED Marine Signal Stern Light covers every base (without bells and whistles). The multiple light modes offer visibility and safety, but you may want to have extra batteries readily available.
If daytime paddling is more your preference, you may need a limited-duty light for your rare night paddles. In that case, the Kayalu WaterTorch 360-Degree Kayak Light is another suitable runner-up option. The submersible light doesn’t have strobe functions. But the handheld portability means it doubles as a flashlight in wet scenarios outside your kayak, too.