During the summer this provides some stunning paddling opportunities watching the sun rise or set over the Solent. However as the Summer turns to Autumn and we head towards Winter I have been determined to maintain a regular paddling schedule. This has led to regular night paddles.
Paddling at night is amazing. The sights and sounds are so different and familiar locations and journeys take on a whole new perspective. The lights from shore and boats on the water can be stunning. Paddling through the rippling, reflected moonlight under a clear, star filled sky cannot be beaten. However, this idyllic ‘image’ of Night Paddling is not the norm.
On nights where the moon is not providing natural light you are more reliant on your night vision. This can be cut dramatically by the glare from any headtorch or decklight you carry and whilst you can see into the distance and spot approaching boats or obstacles, it can be difficult to see/read the water in front of you.On top of this, sound seems amplified in the dark to the point when tiny waves breaking on the pebbled shore can sound like huge dumping surf. The combination of lack of vision and the exaggerated soundtrack can be unnerving to say the least and lead you to tense up and feel unbalanced and out of control in conditions you would barely notice in daylight.
However, with experience I have learnt to relax into my paddling as I would during the daylight and now cherish my time on the water at night. I have slowly built up my night time paddling – starting with very short paddles increasing the distance as my experience and confidence has grown in the same way many of us have developed our daytime paddling.
I carry all the standard kit I would for any day paddle, including a VHF radio, flares, first aid kit, loud whistle, mobile phone etc. However, there are some obvious extra considerations (I’ve tried to link to the exact items I carry)
I wear a headtorch at all times. Often this is only switched on if I need to scout the shoreline or I see a vessel approaching me and want to make myself more visible.
On the front and rear deck I place small but powerful weatherproof LED torches under the deck lines and keep them switched on at all times.
Edited: In actual fact, the front light I will switch off occasionally if I am happy the coast is clear as again it can affect your night vision. You can see a surprising amount even on a dark night (see this excellent article for further thoughts on lights and the comments below for discussion on this).
In the front pockets of each side of my buoyancy aid I carry small pencil lights which I can attach to the shoulder of the buoyancy aid or leave poking out of the pocket to add visibility to the front or rear if required. I also carry a waterproof strobe light on the buoyancy aid.
Finally, as a back up, in my front hatch I carry a set of lightsticks.
I have ensured the clothing and paddling kit I choose has reflective patches on it. My buoyancy aids and drysuit/cags are all well equipped with reflective piping or patches.
I also dress for the swim at all times – using varying layers of thermals and fleece clothing as the temperature dictates. This can be a little uncomfortable on warmer evenings but worth the extra protection if something went wrong.
I carry a KISU/survival shelter and small sleeping bag in case I have an enforced stop and need to wait for daylight. For example, if the weather turned dramatically and i was not happy to keep paddling. Along these lines, I also carry enough snacks and hot drink to make life reasonably comfortable.
Boat & Paddle:
I have a white sea kayak which is very visible when a light is shone at it. However, I am also in the process of equipping both the boat and paddle with reflective tape to enhance visibility.
With the exception of the reflective tape and lights, this has meant no extra outlay compared to daylight paddling.
I follow a very strict set of self imposed rules when Night Paddling. To some these may seem too rigid, to others not enough however they sit well with me.
1. I only paddle routes I know very well. This ensures I know where I am at all times and have learnt the ‘crux points’ for the route. I also use routes where I know I can land at any point.
2. I check the weather, moon times and tide times very carefully and choose routes accordingly.
3. I only paddle in good conditions. If I have any concerns about the wind or sea state I always walk away. It will still be there tomorrow.
4. I try to time paddles for high tide. For the areas I use in the Solent this means I can stay close to shore and avoid any of the night time traffic. At lower tides, I pick routes where I am paddling in shallows created by the Solent’s various spits/banks or far enough outside of the busy shipping channels to avoid traffic.
5. I radio check with Solent Coastguard at the start of a paddle to ensure my VHF is working. I do not log Transit Reports (ie: tell the Coastguard who I am and where I am going etc) as paddle so frequently – this information is left at home however.
6. I ensure folks at home know the route I am paddling and never deviate from this.
By taking some time to get the right equipment and ensure you are intimate with how it operates (flares for example), learn (in daylight) some suitable routes and sticking to a well thought out set of ‘rules’ I have been able to maintain a very regular paddling schedule. At times it can be repetitive, using the same route 5 or 6 times in a row because of time/weather/tide constraints. But, hey, I’m paddling. I’m practicing skills, I’m getting exercise and most importantly having fun!
On top of this I have got to see the Solent from a very different perspective and come away with some fantastic experiences, memories and photographs.