Stay bright, stay on top

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:


Use your head

Your head is your highest point, so make it as bright as is possible. Day glow orange or yellow hats are highly visible.


Blazing paddles

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.


Dress to impress

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.


Bright is best

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.


Fly the flag

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 colourful craft

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.


Be bright at night

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.


Stick together

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.


Remember your radio

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.


And don’t forget to…

lodge a trip intentions form with a reliable person

carry two means of communication, eg VHF radio, cellphone, flares

ensure that communication devices are carried in waterproof bag or container

carry communications on you, in case you are separated from your kayak

take a 406 MHz EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) or PLB (Personal Locater Beacon) if you’re going inland to rivers where there is no cellphone or VHF radio coverage

dress for the conditions – stay on top, stay warm, and dress to be found in an emergency.