Night Kayaking in Key West: A Complete Guide

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Key West is the southernmost point of the United States and is famous for its watersports. People travel from across the country to come to Key West to surf, sail, and kayak. Not to mention visit the iconic beaches and take in the historic architecture. 

But if you want to see a side of Key West that few get to see, there’s no better way than night kayaking. 

Night Kayaking in Key West is a unique experience that lets you explore the emerald water of the Florida Keys. 

If you’re thinking of taking on this trip for yourself, this guide will give you everything you need to know about night kayaking and how to make the most of your time at Key West.

Florida a little too far to travel? Check out our guide on the top places to go kayaking in Michigan

Reasons Why You Need to Experience Night Kayaking

You might be wondering why you’d go night kayaking and not just take a kayak out in the beautiful Florida sunshine. But night kayaking comes with some unique benefits. 

A great community feel

Night kayaking has a great community vibe that you don’t get with a lot of hobbies. Because it’s something a little different and an experience, people are incredibly welcoming and you’ll most definitely meet some new friends for life out on the waters at night. 

Bioluminescence is beautiful 

If you go night kayaking in a clear kayak, you’ll be able to see bioluminescence in some areas. This is when marine critters like krill light up in the water as you move the kayak around them. 

It’s an incredible sight and something you’ll only get to experience when night kayaking or diving. 

It’s a rare experience to tell friends about

Not many people have even heard of night kayaking so you’ll have some great stories to tell your friends and it makes for an interesting talking point when you meet new people at parties. 

Most night tours have glass bottom kayaks which let you see the underwater creatures right beneath you as you paddle. 

Spot a glowing jellies

Although a rare sight, the glowing Comb Jellies are a sight to behold when night kayaking. Your best chance is in Florida between November and May but there are other places you’ll spot these elusive creatures. 

In Florida, this period is known as glowing jellyfish season since they are easiest to spot. Not to worry though, they are actually jellies, not jellyfish, so won’t sting if you fall in.

Explore nature in a new way

Lakes, rivers, and the ocean feel like a completely different world at night. You’ll see a whole new set of wildlife, and even the air feels different when exploring by the light of a kayak.

If you haven’t experienced it before, it’s hard to describe the unique thrill of night kayaking. It’s an adventure that should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list. 

Safety Tips for Night Kayaking in Key West

Safety Tips for Night Kayaking in Key West

If you love the idea of night kayaking but have never been before, there are some important safety tips to keep in mind. Being out on the water in the day is risky enough, but under cover of darkness, the risk does become more prevalent, so keep your safety in mind at all times. 

Buoyancy Aid

Never go kayaking without a life jacket, especially at night. You might feel a bit silly wearing a life jacket if you know how to swim, but shock and strong currents can take down even the best swimmers. 

At night, it’s also much easier to lose track of your kayak or group if you fall in, so your life jacket will extend the amount of time you can spend in the water before getting fatigued.

Practice in the daylight

If you’re not experienced paddlers, get to grips with the sport in the day on calm waters before going out at night. Kayaking is a great activity because anyone can do it, but it does take practice to get good at navigating harsh waters. 

The better you can kayak in the daylight, the more prepared you’ll be for doing it in the dark. 

Be extra vigilant

It’s much more difficult to spot oncoming waves or boats in the dark, so be extra vigilant at all times. And remember what we said earlier about not a lot of people knowing about night kayaking? You need to assume boats aren’t expecting to see you, so make it your priority to make yourself seen and heard at all times. 

Dress appropriately

Knowing what to wear kayaking is vital to keep yourself safe. Layer up with lightweight, moisture-wicking materials when you go kayaking to keep yourself as warm and dry as possible. 

At night, temperatures drop and the water can quite easily cause shock if you fall in. Wear a drysuit with thermals underneath and protective layers like gloves and a beanie to keep yourself warm in the cold temperatures. 

Lights

Waterproof lights are crucial when night kayaking. You should have a light attached to your person and another one on the kayak. 

Many people go out in light up kayaks which are great for showing your location. These also make sure your light can be seen from any direction, which is important for other boats in the area.

It’s important to have a separate light attached to your person in case you get separated from your kayak. Your fellow kayakers will be able to spot you easier and get you back quicker. 

Leave a plan

Whenever you’re going night kayaking, make sure someone knows where, when, and for how long you’re going. Make a plan to check in with them at a specific time so they know you’re home and safe. This way, if something does go wrong, they’ll know to send help looking for you. 

You can also leave your paddle plan and relevant contact information with the local coast guard station so they know to look out for you. 

Know where you’re going

Only use a kayaking trail you know well at night time. The last thing you want to do is chart a new route at night only to get lost or hit rocks and become stranded. 

A waterproof GPS is a reliable device to have if you’re worried about getting lost. Otherwise, a compass and some old fashioned navigation skills should keep you safe. 

Check weather and tides

Check weather and tides

If you’re planning on going out in the ocean, always check the weather and the tides before you set off. If there is a storm coming in, don’t go out at night. The waves will likely become too erratic and choppy for you to kayak safely 

Don’t use new kit

Never try out a brand-new kit after dark. When you have new kit, test it out in the daytime when it is much safer. If something goes wrong or a piece of equipment fails in the day, you are much more likely to get help or be able to get yourself safely back to shore. A new piece of equipment failing in the dark is a recipe for disaster. 

Stay in contact

Whether you’re going out solo or in a group, remember to carry a radio or waterproof phone with you in case of emergencies. If you get stranded, you need to be able to call for help as soon as possible. 

Also, illuminating flares and a first aid kit should be included in your gear to keep you safe should the worst happen. 

How to Kayak at Night

So now we have all the safety tips sorted, let’s take a look at how you actually go about kayaking at night and how it’s different from day paddling.

Light up

There are regulations in place regarding night paddling which differ depending on your region so make sure you know the local rules about lighting up your kayak. 

The United States Coast Guard classifies a kayak as a vessel under oars, which means you are required to carry an “electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision”.

This means your kayak needs to be lit between sunset and sunrise to comply with laws. If you’re renting a night kayak, they often have illuminated transparent bottoms for you to explore the water as you paddle. 

Wear a personal light

You should also have a battery-powered LED attached to your life vest which gives enough light to be seen from one nautical mile away. This will make sure you’re visible to boats in the area and will help you be spotted if you stray from your group. 

Layer your clothes

Layer your clothes

What you wear will depend on the time of year and temperature, but aim for a thermal base layer, a warm mid-layer (this could be a drysuit if it’s particularly cold), and a waterproof outer layer. 

You’ll also need a helmet, gloves, and maybe a face mask if it’s wintertime or particularly cold. 

Layering is essential when kayaking to keep your core temperature constant. Think about what you’d wear day paddling and add at least one more layer for drop in temperature at night.

What to Bring for Night Kayaking in Key West

Key West is a beautiful spot to go night kayaking. If you’re planning a trip there, here’s what you need to take with you night kayaking Florida.

Dry bags and dry boxes

Whether you’re night kayaking in Key West or day paddling in Red River Gorge, dry bags are a lifesaver. 

But this is especially important at night kayaking when you’ll need a reliable form of communication like a cell phone or radio. 

Dry bags roll shut to form a watertight seal and are less bulky to carry. But for something larger, a dry box has a rubber seal to keep water out and is more sturdy. 

Everything from cameras and your mobile phone to a change of clothes and a first aid kit should all be stored in a dry box or bag. 

Bilge pump or sponge

Kayaks inevitably take on some water if you’re on anything but sheltered waters. A sponge or bilge pump will get the water out of your boat to keep your feet dry. They’re also crucial if your kayak gets flooded and begins sinking so make sure you keep it handy throughout your trip. 

A lightweight tent

A lightweight tent

Going night kayaking means being out after sunset, so you’ll want somewhere to sleep when you’re done. A lightweight tent is easy to carry, doesn’t take up a great amount of space, and can be quickly set up wherever you end up.

Night kayaking generally turns into a camping trip, and even if you like being one with nature, you’ll be glad you have somewhere warm and dry to sleep. 

A synthetic sleeping bag

Although a thick, down-filled sleeping bag is much warmer, if you have to take it on your kayak, it’s not going to do well getting sprayed or damp. 

A thin, synthetic sleeping bag is much more lightweight, will dry easily if it gets damp, and is easier to carry. You’ll also be surprised how warm a synthetic sleeping bag can be, even in colder temperatures. 

Life jacket

We cannot stress this enough – do not go night kayaking without a life vest. It’s legally required in most places anyway and will be a defense against drowning if you fall in and succumb to hypothermia or shock. 

Go to a professional sports shop and get fitted for a life jacket. It should fit snugly to avoid slipping off in an emergency. 

How to Choose the Right Night Kayaking Tour

If you’re nervous about going out night paddling in Key West alone, there are many professionally run night kayak tours you can join. The personal guide will supply the light-up kayak and everything you need and you’ll go out as part of a group to explore the area. 

Here are a few tips on choosing the right sunset tour in Key West.  

Price

Start by looking at the price of the kayaking excursions and what is included. The cheapest isn’t necessarily the best choice, so look for the following points to make sure you’re getting the best trip for your money:

  • How long do you get out in the water?
  • What route do they take you on? Is it exploring the areas you’re most interested in?
  • How many kayak tour guides are there and are they knowledgeable locals?
  • How many people are in the tour group? The less the better

Tour length

The length of the tour is important. Some will take you out on the water for longer, others will include extras like food or camping after the kayaking.

The longer you’re out on the water, the more time you have to explore, so compare the length of the tours and the different routes to see what looks best for you. 

Reviews

Finally, make sure you check out the reviews of each tour company. Third party review sites like TrustPilot are best to get impartial information from previous customers. 

If a tour guide has terrible reviews, it’s not worth spending your money with them. The best reviewed companies are not only the most fun trips, they are usually the ones with the best safety procedures, so make sure to factor this into your decision. 

Ready to add night kayaking to your bucket list?

If you’re looking for something unique to do when you visit Key West, a night kayak adventure should be top of your list. There’s no better way to see a side of Key West that few people get to see.

Going out with a licensed tour group is the best way to explore safely if you’re a beginner. But make sure you follow the tips in this post to make the most of your trip. 

Looking for something even cooler than night kayaking? Check out our guide on underground kayaking at Red River Gorge

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