Winter's crap isn't it? And as I build both kayaks and canoes of varying designs I like to keep paddling as long as possible in the year. But why mothball the boats at all when you can carry on kayaking and canoeing at night or just long into the evening?
So long as you follow some simple safety advice and use the right kit, you should never get into bother - and you'll pretty much have the water to yourself!
Here's 10 safety tips for kayaking and canoeing at night, read them and get hours more paddling time.
1. Always wear a buoyancy aid or life jacket. I can't stress this enough and yet still often see people paddling without them - if you feel like a fool, get over it. It's better to feel silly than end up on a slab, or at the bottom.
2. Be comfortable with your kayak or canoe and have confidence in your equipment - this comes with time and experience.
3. Expect the unexpected and try to avoid silly mistakes that can be caused by the reduction of your primary sense - remain extra vigilant at all times for other craft, waves and wakes from craft that have passed you (even at a distance) and don't forget the delay from them passing to you getting the wake, as even though you'd expect them it's still easy to forget what you can't see...
4. Dress for the water temperature, and don't forget the effect that taking a swim at night can have on you - be prepared for the disorientation by practising for when things go wrong with your paddle mates.
5. Always make sure you have a waterproof light source attached to your person (strobe, torch or light stick and a back up), so that if you end up in the water separated from your kayak you have a means to be seen.
Attach a white light at the rear of the boat, there are plenty on the market that offer 360-degree light emission and sit above the deck increasing visibility.
On all kayaking trips at night, I personally have a head torch on my head all the time but it is usually switched off to preserve my night vision, I use the head torch to make myself more visible when other traffic is approaching or in busy areas on the water and for landing. And when kayaking and canoeing at night, attach - if you can find it - reflective tape in at least 150mm lengths in different points around the kayak/canoe and paddles.
6. Always leave a passage plan with family or friends and do not deviate from that plan, and include in it approximate ETA's etc (there are loads you can use as a template off the tinterweb), you can also leave a paddle plan with your contact details at the local coast guard station by phoning it in, and this is encouraged if you are fishing whilst afloat.
7. When paddling at night stick to routes you know well and mark on your chart/map buoy positions and beacons that you can see.
If there is a beacon you see at night but do not know what it is, take a bearing from you to it and from you to a known point and research it, it'll give you some practice at navigation and it may turn out to be the only navigation light you'll be able to see one night if the weather takes a sudden turn. Think about using a waterproof GPS, but make sure you know your compass and navigation skills first!
8. Always check the weather and tide times and if you've bought a new piece of kit always try it out before a trip to make sure it works and so that you know how to use it before fumbling with it in the dark.
9. Carry a VHF radio/mobile phone/ rugged phone (I have a waterproof phone), and for night time use, some illuminating flares (as smoke etc is ineffective at night), along with your usual safety equipment.
10. Don't be afraid to walk away from a kayak trip if the conditions aren't right, or even land and wait it out in your bivvi, or as a last resort even ask for a lift from the other half, and come back and do it in better conditions.
If you prepare for the worst you'll be ready for practically all that's thrown at you, but don't forget the object of this is to increase the amount of time that you can spend ultimately enjoying the water throughout the year, because after you've done all the safety stuff and the careful planning its a different experience that you'll probably fall for and will want more and more as I have.
Rich builds handmade kayaks and canoes in Plymouth,UK and has many years constructing and sailing boats of all sizes.