How to Paddle at Night
If you haven’t paddled your sup at night, you are missing out on a fantastic experience that can bring you closer to nature, improve your sensory awareness and increase your time on the water. With a little bit of planning and some extra gear, night paddling might just become your favorite thing to do!
Why Paddle at Night
Night paddling can enhance your training schedule by giving you more options for getting in that workout, whether it’s paddling before the sun comes up in the morning or after a late day at the office.
A typically crowded lake or river turns serenely peaceful at night, and there is something special about being one of the few people paddling then.
Night paddling increases your sensory awareness and helps improve your readiness on the water.
You will see things at night that you don’t usually experience during the day, like nocturnal animals and the vibrant night sky!
What you will need
Visibility is vital when it comes to night paddling. You want to be able to see, and you want to be seen.
Light for Seeing Where You Are Paddling
Using a headlamp for your paddle may be tempting, but they are not without disadvantages. They will attract all the bugs to your face, ruining a paddle in a heartbeat. Also, as you switch your paddle from side to side, your arms will pass in front of the beam. That creates a bit of a strobe effect and can make it difficult to see what’s in front of you. Some people are really bothered by this, others don’t mind. I recommend saving the headlamp for unloading and loading your gear on dry land. Use a waterproof, mountable light instead.
If you have a GoPro mount on your board, consider using an inexpensive third-party dive light like the one made by Suptig. For about $25, you get a USB rechargeable light that is waterproof to 147 feet/45 meters. It has mounting brackets on the top and bottom of the unit, which means you can stack several together if you need more candle power. These LED lights throw a wide angle of 500 lumens and will last about 90 minutes. They have a low power setting as well for longer battery life. At that price, though, you can get a couple and use one for a backup if you want to paddle longer. These handy lights are also great for emergencies, and other uses around the house.
You can also use a bicycle light. Look for one with an IPx rating of six or higher to ensure waterproofness. Also look for one that comes with a GoPro mount or is GoPro mount compatible. The advantage of using a bike light is that it will send out a focused beam of light directly in front you, and that can be very helpful if there’s debris in the water.
Remember, the higher the lumens, the more light, and the broader the beam.
Throw the Light in Front of You
Once you’ve got your lights, invest in a tall gooseneck extension to elevate the light off your deck. By raising the unit off your board, more of the beam will illuminate the surface of the water in front of you instead of just lighting up the nose of your sup.
Lights for Being Seen
The US Coast Guard requires a white light on all paddle craft operating at night. Mounted, forward-facing lights meet that requirement and increase your visibility to other watercraft. However, they are only visible from specific directions and angles. Wear reflective clothing and attach a safety light to your PFD, shirt, or hat. That could be something as simple as a battery-operated tag or a chemical light stick. Some reflective tape on your paddle is a good idea, too.
For maximum visibility, add another light or two on your board. The inflatable camp lights made by Luci and Luminaid are perfect for this. They come in various sizes, can be solar-charged and USB charged, and are easy to tie down to your deck handles and leash plugs or fit under bungees. They are waterproof; some can charge up a cell phone in an emergency. Some models even feature a strobe setting, which works as an emergency signal and increases visibility. They are perfect for an impromptu disco party, too!
The inflatable lanterns store easily, are great for extra light when packing up all your gear, and create excellent mood lighting for a post-paddle tailgate session. Like the Suptig lights, they also come in handy in your home emergency kit.
Additional Safety Concerns
Of course, carry your phone with you, let someone know where you are going and when you will be back, and use a leash. If you don’t usually wear a pfd, consider using one at night, especially if you are alone. Keep a first aid kit in the car or, better yet, in a dry bag on the board.
Where to Night Paddle
If you’re new to paddling at night, start in a familiar place. That way, you know what hazards to look for, like downed trees, rocks, bridges, and dams.
Ensure no regulations restrict night use and that park, lake, boat ramp, or beach access where you are paddling isn’t limited to certain hours. You want to avoid getting stuck on the wrong side of a locked gate!
Pick a place with limited motorboat traffic. If that isn’t possible, be sure you are visible as possible. Consider adding a couple of extra lights to be sure. You can also paddle closer to shore to avoid larger boats.
If you can, go with a friend or a group. If that’s impossible, make sure you feel comfortable and safe at your spot. You can always scope it out ahead of time to see if a place that feels safe in the daytime feels the same way when the sun goes down.
When to Go
Full moon nights are prime paddling times! The big, broad moon adds extra illumination. The full moon phase of the lunar cycle often makes some animals more active. Conversely, paddling on a new moon evening, or Muku as the Hawaiians call it, is great for stargazing as long as it is a clear night with no clouds.
As always, be sure to check weather conditions and prepare accordingly. You might be colder after your night paddle, so throw extra clothes and towels in the car.
Try to start by getting on the water at dusk, when there’s still a little light. Let your eyes adjust to the falling darkness. That way, you and your body will gradually become accustomed to the changing conditions and the new experience.
Night paddling might be one of those things you try “once in a blue moon” or you might get hooked on it. You might find it’s the perfect way to make more time for training for an epic paddle event. Regardless, it can be done safely and can deliver some of the most memorable experiences you can have on the water!