Saturday, March 03, 2012

Visibility and sea kayaking: Being SEEN.

Joan, "behind" a wave - but seen.
Out here on the "wettest" coast of Canada (I suppose folks in the Maritime provinces could argue that, but we're not counting snow), the skies and seas are often just a different shade of grey. And sometimes, they are exactly the same shade. The light is often subdued, especially at this time of the year and visibility is not always ideal. That being the case, when we're paddling, we wear bright colours. Joan is usually in red (now). As for me, I'm a "mango" kind of guy. :) Our kayaks, two are yellow and one is "mint", are easily seen.

It's not about fashion, the whole idea is to be seen - by one another, but most especially, by other vessels, large and small, fast and slow. Fashion may well be all about being seen, but for paddlers, it's about enhancing safety. Since kayakers are "captains" of some the smallest, lightest, and most vulnerable "ships" on the ocean, we want to make very sure that we're "stand outs" on the water. Not talking paddling style here - we're talking visibility!

Although there aren't large numbers of folks kayaking during the winter months, it's always a little surprising to  come upon a paddler wearing colours or paddling a boat that "blends" with the sea and sky. Not to appear judgemental here with regards to personal choices but let's face it, "blending" with the marine environment is like driving in the dark - with lights extinguished. It's risky. It's a bit like flying at night with the radar and the anti-collision lights turned off.

As do many, we pack a bunch of "visibility" items that include: detachable Scotty incandescent SEA-Lights, a Princeton Tec emergency Aqua Strobe, headlamps, extra flashlight, "pencil" flares, and lots of reflective tape on boats, paddles, and outerwear. Even the deck rigging has helpful reflection. None of these items are expensive - and they're worth every penny. We may not plan to be on the water after dark but in the event that it happens (after all, "stuff" can happen, right?), it's just good planning and preparation.

In beam of headlamp.
Last night, we began a five-week Seamanship and Trip Planning Course with Jan Kretz, certified guide, instructor, and owner of Adventuress Sea Kayaking, here on Vancouver Island. It's clearly going to be awesome for both beginners and more experienced paddlers, and the course content and discussions of shared experiences are going to make everyone significantly more aware of everything we can do to stay safe, keep others safe, and enjoy even more, this incredible sport.

One certain way for padders to enhance safety on the water? "Show" our colours. Additional thoughts on this? Other suggested "visibility kit" items?


Top image: A balmy winter day on the Salish Sea, just off Gabriola Island.
Second image: Added this one to show how effective reflective tape is under beam of single headlamp. (Crossing Saltspring Island to Maple Bay)


  1. Being seen is hugely important...I can't believe the number of people who are out walking at night wearing black. It is quite startling to all of a sudden have a person cross the road in front of me as they are barely visible.Out on the water would be just as dangerous.
    p.s. kept the mint one that for guest paddlers ?? :)

  2. You're so right, L. It can be a little unsettling coming upon folks in the dark. When we're out at night around here, I'm sure we look a little "over the top" - reflective vests and flashing (blue) Road ID "Firefly", but drivers know we're there! The mint Solstice? You bet, for guest paddlers and times for packing more stuff in. "Book" it, anytime! :)

  3. Love your awareness of safety, Duncan - but please take note - red cars are some of the hardest to see at night! Red turns to black in the darkness - so you know - Sheila

  4. Thanks for that, Sheila. Night paddling is a whole different world. Understood. That's where the SEA-Lights and other "onboard" and personal light sources are essential, just as with any other vessel. Extreme caution is taken on night paddles - guaranteed. Having said that, if conditions are right, such opportunities are very special. Duncan.

  5. One efficient thing too do to be visible is to paint your paddleblades with fruorescent spray (use white as baselayer)

  6. Many thanks for that, T. Copy and paste the above link to the pics, folks, there are amazing paddling images in "albums". D.