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Lights ComparedKayak Lights Compared
By Tom Holtey
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We tested a handful of common kayak lights, used as navigation and marker lights to make a kayak visible to other boaters on the water. We wanted to know how truly visible these lights were to other boaters.

Please see our “Kayaking at Night” article for full details on kayak lights and their use.

Kayak Lights Overview:

A white light, commonly called an anchor light, or stern light, is meant to signal your position to other boaters.  They are most often placed on the stern deck of a kayak.

Deck lightThe light should be seen 360 degrees (not necessarily practical for a kayaker).

It is meant to shine continually and must be white in color. It is not meant to illuminate your way.

Navigation lights are red and green, used to indicate the heading of the boat to others on the water.

Red = left = port
Green = right = starboard

Navigation lightsThese are most often placed on the bow deck of a kayak. With Nav lights on the bow and a deck light on the stern you have full light set-up comparable to any other vessel on the water, similar to the running lights of an automobile.

A marker light, maybe a chemical light stick, or battery-powered light, is used to make a kayaker, or castaway, easy to spot at night; whereas strobe lights are meant as a distress signal. These types of lights are best secured to the user’s life vest.

Such lights should be visible from a distance meaningful to other boaters and kayakers.

Distance & Conditions:

We tested our lights at a distance of 3 tenths of a mile. I figured that about a quarter mile would be a practical distance that would give power boaters a chance to change course and for kayakers to locate each other, maybe giving them a chance to regroup. Lights visible from many miles, say 5 miles, are just not practical to have on board a kayak. Lights only visible from a short distance, measured in yards, would serve no real purpose.

We tested the lights on flat open ground, no trees or other obstructions. We did not test on the water in order to simplify the testing process. The lights were displayed one at a time, approximately 20 inches below eye level, about how another kayaker would view the light.

Marker lightThese conditions would largely simulate flat calm water. The height of the viewer above the light would vary from vessel to vessel. One can assume the larger and higher the vessel the more likely the light would be seen at a distance. One can also assume that kayak lights at eye level in high seas would be more difficult to see at times.

The testing was done in the evening, approximately 1 hour after sunset. There was no moon, no streetlights and almost no other lights visible in the area. There was some light still in the sky, but otherwise it was quite dark. It was dark enough that a flashlight was needed at times to walk and to record notes on paper. I felt that this would simulate the real life conditions a kayaker might encounter when out too late and in need of being seen by others.

One observer only was used to qualify each light’s performance, and the other tester displayed the light and recorded the notes. The observer was not informed on what brand lights were shown. The lights were shown in a random order. We used a simple rating scale of “very bright”, “bright”, “visible” and “not visible”. A couple lights straddled the visible and bright ratings. Communications were made by 2-way radio.


Scotty lightsWe tested only a handful of lights. We would be happy to test more lights when possible (feel free to contact us about this). The lights tested are as follows:

ACR C-Light

The ACR C-Light is very common and often used as a deck light, mast light, and PFD light by kayakers. It has been distributed by ACR, for a while by Paddler’s Supply as a suction cup deck light, also offered by Scotty Fishing Gear as suction cup deck light and a mast light on a pole.

The C-Light is common as a clip light and PFD light, widely available in marine and kayak shops. The C-Light has an incandescent bulb in a lens that focuses the light upward and outward, or in other words the filament is exposed above the body of the lamp into the center of the lens. Battery: 2AA


The Tek-Tite Mark III is also a common light. It is most often used as a deck light, but can also be used as a PFD light.

Kayak Navigation lightsIt is distributed by Paddler’s Supply as a suction cup or bolt-on deck light and direct from Tek-Tite with or without the suctions cup or on a short aluminum pole. The Tek-Tike has 2 LED and a flare cone.

The LED shines out from inside the body of the lamp like a flashlight. A strip of refractive material dispersers the light outwards.

One can extrapolate the findings of the white deck light to roughly represent the performance of the Navigation lights that have the exact same lamp bodies, but with red and green colored flare cones. Battery: 3AA

Hydro StrobeHydro Star Multi Strobe

We tested the Seattle Sports Hydro Strobe (model common in 2012). The Hydro Strobe has several light display functions.

The light has multiple LEDs. The functions are as follows;

~ Red LED steady light ~
~ 6 white LED steady: 4 LED 2 LED ~
~ Flashing ~

The LEDs are set just above the body of the lamp and the lens cap disperses the light.

I understand that this light has had a previous model (with red and green nav lights) that we are not able to test and there is a future model (spring 2013) that we are not yet able to test. The Hydro Stobe tested has a suction cup mount with a magnet in it.

Older lightsOlder Light

We also tested a classic 2 D-cell incandescent deck-light that was commonly used for canoes. It is much like a regular retro flashlight, however the bulb extends out of the lamp body and into the lens cap shining outward. This light is not submersible.

Strobe Lights

While we were at it we also tested some strobe lights and the Tek-Tite Mark Light, 1 LED a red glow cone with a 1AA battery. The Strobe lights tested were the Tek-Tite Mark Light Strobe, an older Princeton Tec Aqua Strobe and a classic D-Cell strobe. All would be common to paddlers.

All the lights we tested are meant to be used by kayakers, paddlers or in some marine or outdoor capacity. They are all waterproof (except one). We did not test for water intrusion, nor shine time, battery life or bulb life.

Test Results

The findings of this testing do not represent a scientific study, but are more of a casual observation of the performance of the lights. It is up to each individual to make up their own mind, based on their own needs, as to witch light is best for them.

Product Image




Not Visible

ACR C-Light

ACR C-Light




Navigation Lights

Tek-Tite Mark III




Hydro Strobe

Hydro Strobe Red




Hydro Strobe




Hydro Strobe




Hydro Strobe




Hydro Strobe Flashing




retro deck light

Retro D-Cell
Deck Light



Tek-tite Mark Light

Mark Light








Princeton Tec Aqua Strobe




retro strobe

Retro D-Cell Strobe






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