Monday, October 8, 2007

colors for visibility

Which colors show up best on the sea if you want to be seen? When I first bought a sea kayak my mentors said it was important to be visible and that the most visible colors lay in the red-orange-yellow range of the spectrum. I chose orange because that was right in the middle and ordered the kayak with orange deck and orange hull. I later decided I didn't really like looking at orange all day! Hence the next choice, still in the same range; a yellow deck with a red hull. But research shows that these colors while bright don't necessarily show up best. Red becomes less obvious in certain light...
White on the other hand reflects light so well it ought to be incredibly visible... except maybe when there are a lot of whitecaps out there? And black? Fishermen often find that black floats and black flags are easier to spot than brightly colored ones, especially when seen against the light...
Yet it's the unlikely "robin-egg blue" that surprises most paddlers. Because it contrasts sharply against most sea kayaking backgrounds it too is highly visible.
Of course big blocks of a single color show up better than broken shapes, hence the smaller blocks of color that effectively break up the outlines and camouflage war ships...
But when I spot a kayaker in the distance, it is often the movement of the paddle that catches my eye first, sometimes long before I can make out the kayak. For all the color you can add to the kayak, moving a paddle in the air is more likely to attract attention.


René said...

Hi Nigel,
I agree with you that the paddle is very effective to attract attention. Makes me think of a story in Seakayaker, a few months ago, about 2 guys training all kind of rescues in very confused seas and waves of up to 2meter. At certain moment one did let go his kayak. To my astonishment the other kayaker went after the kayak while letting his buddy float at the spot. That he found him, after recapturing the kayak, was only thanks to the coolbloodyness of the floating guy while waving with his paddle from the water.

May be it´s an idea to give paddle blades extra attention value with reflecting tape and/or painted in reflecting bright colors. Or is, following your fishermen´s experience, a black paddle blade (very common nowadays with all those carbon-paddles) better?

Allthough I agree with the importance of the paddle as an effective signal, I would also maintain signal-colors on the kajak (please !): When paddling in confused seas it is than much easier to spot your buddies and their wellbeing in the short moments you are able to spot them before they disappear behind the next wave.

Paddling together means, if you are doing well, being much closer to each other and because of that the kayakcolors will be more important and effective than when trying to spot a kayak in the the distance.

Besides that, when things goes terribly wrong, from a helicopter the bright kayak-colors are easier to spot (I think) from above.


PeterD said...

Some friends were trying to meet us on the water at a pre-arranged place. I was in a gray boat (bad choice, I know), red PFD, yellow paddle jacket, or black paddle blades with large stripes of SOLAS tape, and my girlfriend was in a red boat with red PFD and yellow paddle blades. The first thing they saw was the yellow paddle blades.

I know my gray boat disappears in many conditions, so put a lot of SOLAS tape on, but these only work when light is flashed at them. I definitely want a brighter color for my next boat.

There are conditions where blue may not work. I was paddling on Lake Tahoe (which is known for its blue colors), and saw a red recreational boat paddling a kilometer or two away. I was surprised to see someone paddling alone. After a while of half keeping an eye on them, I noticed that there was also a blue kayak there that I just couldn't see before.

bonnie said...


Nothing particularly intelligent to say, just what fun to find out you're blogging!

Bonnie from NYC

(now let's see if this actually posts this time)

PS - reading from NY, found you via Wenley in Spain - odd place, blogdom!

Wenley said...

Hello Nigel,

I am just glad to find your blog. Belated congratulations for raising the colour subject.
I own a black boat and it somewhat, contrasts better than expected, against sea and sky even in the evenings.
However, I feel that the likely parts to be looked for in a rescue might be the hull of the boat, head and shoulders. For that I carry in winter a Reed high visibility hood in a pocket, SOLAS tape on the shoulder straps, and my prayer beads. :)
Still, I have delayed sticking SOLAS tape in the hull, but these comments have reminded me to do so.

david said...

Hello there. Just a quick note to welcome you to the blogging world!


David H. Johnston

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Silvia Jacinto said...

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