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Gentleman at the put in: “Y’all got lights for them things?”

Me: (with a very confused look, having caught only part of the question)  “Pardon me?”

Gentleman at the put in:  “Y’all are takin’ your lives into your own hands goin’ out in them things this time’a night!”  (head shake as he turns and walks away…)

Emily, the friend joining me on this particular venture and ever the epitomal Southern lady:  “Well, Sir, we don’t exactly feel that way, but we’d be glad to answer any questions you may have if it would ease your mind!”

The gentleman at the put in says not a word; merely throws his hands skyward as he walks away shaking his head.  We step into our boats and push away from the shore, into the river and into night…

Growing up being lulled to sleep by the Critter Chorus wafting through my open window or playing full volume outside my tent during warmer weather; lying on my back gazing at the stars and pondering the mysteries of the universe while camping on clear, cold nights; feeling the gentle wind from the river on my face; smelling the rich colors of the forest all around me.  All of this falls into place for me when on the water at night, culminating in one of the most peace filled times of my day.

However, I do 100% agree with this gentleman’s concern for us being on the water at night.

Night paddling, even on flat water, certainly isn’t for everyone.  Above and beyond general paddling safety such as: sharing info; not paddling alone; being cognizant of flow/conditions/hazards/your surroundings; NOT paddling in conditions that you’re not comfortable in; NOT paddling unfamiliar areas at night, there are some safety measures that can very easily be taken to make hitting the water at night one of the most exhilarating, salient and gratifying opportunities you can have on the water.

I know there are folks out there who full moon paddle rivers and creeks I personally would never dream of going near, even in the daylight (I’ll run shuttle for you on those!)  Please keep in mind that what I’m talking about here is paddling on still water, and these are the measures that I  take to ensure my own personal safety while on the water at night.  I am by no means advocating or teaching anyone skills; merely sharing what I do by answering common questions I receive on a regular basis.

First and foremost:  I ALWAYS PADDLE WITH SOMEONE WHEN PADDLING AT NIGHT.  Self-explanatory, and also comes into play as a safety measure at launch sites.  There can be some – ah – shall we say “interesting” folks out there sometimes, know what I mean???

Second: despite the fact that I don’t paddle alone at night, I still ALWAYS LET SOMEONE KNOW MY PLANS (when/where/time frame/etc.)  It kind of goes without saying that the person in the know needs to be someone other than who you’re with on the water.

Third:  I MAKE MYSELF VISIBLE!!!  I have red, yellow and white reflective tape all over the blades of my paddles:


Kind of obnoxious, wouldn't you say?!

Merely a bunch of stickers during the day...

I generally have reflective tape on my boat as well, I just ran out of tape before I got to decorating my Journey.

I also use deck lights:

Completely waterproof!

And if I’m feeling particularly festive (and in areas with more motorized boat traffic) I have been known to duct tape lights inside the bow and stern hatches of my boat, effectively morphing into some type of mutant, floating, glow worm.

Yup, indeed it is a mutant, floating, glow worm.

The key here, though, is to actually remember to turn the lights on prior to hitting the water…  I also intentionally choose to paddle brightly colored boats (red/yellow/orange/etc.)

Fourth:  I STRENGTHEN AND UTILIZE MY SENSES.  Getting lost in reverie is easy.  What’s more difficult is becoming and staying cognizant of my surroundings, and the movements and sounds in them that are out of place.  I keep an ear out for sounds of reels being cast by fishermen, engines turning, and distant conversations.  I keep my eyes open for out of place lights and movement.  Long ago I learned the old hunting trick of not looking directly at anything when you’re in “off” light.  In my mind I still hear my father’s voice telling me to focus on a point, then to look outside my sight for movement and shapes that didn’t fit the surroundings.  Strengthening and relying on your peripheral vision is key when paddling, but this skill very much comes into play at night.

Last but not least:  I STICK TO THE BANKS/EDGES, and OUT OF THE MAIN CHANNEL.  Motorized boats aren’t generally a paddler’s ideal companion; this is particularly true at night.  Making myself highly visible, staying outside of the channel markers on the river, nd doing what I can to be cognizant of fishermen and their lines all help to keep the tenuous relationship between kayakers and motorized boaters on more friendly terms.  On a more selfish note, these things also help to ensure that I’m less likely to get run over by a boat running full blast down the river!

All of this may sound like ridiculous overkill to some folks, and you may or may not agree with it.  You also may have some ideas or suggestions that I’ve not thought of yet.  If that’s the case, PLEASE don’t hesitate to share them with me!!  What I do know is that paddling at night will always be something I enjoy, and I will find a way to make it happen as long as I’m physically able.  Employing these measures will hopefully help to keep me on the water longer throughout my life!!