Sometimes it happens. You have to work all day, run the kids to practice, pick them up, cook supper, then when it’s all done and you are ready to go for a paddle, it’s dark outside. This happened to me, and I decided to do a little research.
Padding-boarding at night is legal. However, if you stray outside of typical surfing or bathing areas, you will need to carry a life jacket, a light, and a sound-making device, such as a whistle. This is because U.S. Coast Guard regulations consider paddleboards “vessels” outside these areas.
After I learned a few things online and from my friends, I took my SUP out after sunset, and it was a lot of fun. There were a few precautions that I took to make sure I was legal and safe. I also found a few things that really enhance the night paddling.
How to Comply With Laws at Night
According to the United States Coast Guard, to be legal paddling after dark in many areas, you have to have a life jacket aboard, a sound-making device, and a light.
This isn’t really a big deal, and it’s pretty essential. If you are over 13, you don’t need to wear the life jacket, make sure you have one on board. Of course, if you are 12 or younger, you are required to wear one. While the green and red navigation lights that you see on boats are not required by the United States Coast Guard, they require that you have some form of signaling light on your board.
There are Suction cup lights that you can stick to the bow or the stern of your paddleboard. I use a cheap headlamp that I picked up from the hardware store. You know, the kind that is strapped to a headband, like a dentist uses. I also carry a flashlight as a backup.
One type of light that some of my friends have, but I haven’t gotten around to buying yet, are colored light strips that you attach to the bottom of your stand-up paddleboard. These lights look really cool and help you be seen by other boaters out on the water with you.
The Coast Guard also requires that you have a sound-making device with you on your “vessel.” Again, this isn’t any big deal. I carry a whistle around on a string around my neck. I also have a backup attached to my life jacket. This is not a bad thing to have. You never know, especially in the dark, if the driver of that boat heading right for you is paying attention to you or looking down at their phone. Best to be able to announce your presence.
If you really want to make a big sound, you could carry an air horn. There is no doubt that an air horn will get the attention of that distracted boater. It will also scare the heck out of your buddy if you sneak up behind him. 🙂
How to Stay Safe
Speaking of buddies, make sure you have at least one while you are out on a SUP after dark. Riding a paddleboard after dark is a lot of fun with a bunch of friends, It is also helpful to have someone else along just in case something goes wrong.
Fun Things to do After dark
Now that the legal stuff and safety preaching is over let’s talk about all the fun you will have on a stand-up paddleboard at night.
Let’s start with the 4th of July. Last year a group of 8 of us met up at the boat ramp and slipped our paddleboards into the water just at sundown. We set out for our first destination, which was a dockside restaurant on the Intracoastal waterway. Here we had a few appetizers and refreshments. We then paddled to a quiet bay off the main waterway and had a perfect view of the nearby town’s fireworks. The best thing is, when the show was over, we had about a 45-minute paddle back to the ramp. This allowed us to avoid the worst of the traffic heading home.
I’ve never been, but a friend of mine used to live in San Diego and would take his SUP to Humphry’s on the Bay. He said he was able to hear concerts from his SUP for free. The only real rule there was that you could not anchor. You can also get a feel for Some MLB games in either San Francisco or Pittsburgh. You could have a radio with the game playing while you paddle around McCovey Cove in San Francisco or the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. Not only do you get the play-by-play, but you also get to hear the roar of the crowd, and if you’re fortunate, you could catch a home run ball.
Back at home in Eastern NC, I like to get out on the water after dark and do all sorts of things. One of my favorites is fishing from my SUP. Quite often, I will take my board out with a friend or two, and we will find a quiet place to anchor. Once anchored, We flip on our underwater floodlights. This attracts small baitfish and minnows, which in turn attracts more substantial fish. Sometimes watching the schooling fish is entertaining enough, but if the freezer is empty, we like to fill it with freshly caught fish.
In the same vein, my friends and I like to paddle up small side “creeks” in the grass marshes. Then we will drift back with the current with our lights focused on the bottom. We look for the outlines of flounder with a gig in hand. On these occasions, we are definitely looking to fill our coolers. The key to gigging flounder from a SUP is to cover a lot of water that is 1-2 feet deep, that’s why these little “creeks” are perfect.
There are a lot of spoil islands where I live. They are the perfect place as a destination or to take a break from paddling. We like to strap a bundle of wood to one or more of our boards and take a break by building a small campfire on the beach of one of these spoil islands. Of course, we have our favorite spots, and sometimes we’ll even bring sleeping bags and crash right next to the fire all night. Usually, though, when we plan to camp the whole night, we will bring plenty of other goodies. Food and beverages in a cooler to start.
One of the best things about using your SUP a night is the lack of crowds. Even at a location that is elbow to elbow during the day, you and your friends might have it all to yourself.
It’s also great to explore the same places you do during the day. At night, it’s quieter. There are animals that you don’t see during the day and sounds that can only be heard at night. It’s peaceful and worth the try. Just be careful
Can you camp using a SUP? You can camp using a SUP, just remember to haul out everything you take in. Using a SUP to get to a campsite (and use while camping) is great fun.
Can you fish from a SUP? You are allowed to fish from a SUP. Some people have even fully customized their boards to chase big game fish.