For the sake of newer paddlers, after all the back-and-forth discussion on the CASKA Yahoo Group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/caska/), I want to try to recap and gather thoughts on paddling after dark in Chicago:
1.) It's GREAT. It's serene, it's thrilling, it's convenient, and done properly, it's safe. The skyline, the fireworks, warm gentle breezes -- is there better paddling anywhere in the world? And, a full schedule of Wednesday night outings. In fact, ten years ago when I began kayaking, most of my very first paddles as a raw novice were done at night on Lake Michigan with CASKA! Fear not, get out there and have fun.
2.) Like all paddling, night passages require proper equipment, preparation, and common sense. All the daytime guidelines apply, plus the following:
*You are required to have one white light. In open water, where you can focus on individual vessels as they approach, some people prefer to leave this light off to maximize their own night vision. In traffic or where sightlines are not open this is not practical.
*Additional lights are highly advisable, but if used, they should be regulation: a red light on the port bow, a green light on the starboard bow, and a white light on the stern. A hand 'torch' or headlamp is useful for aiming at approaching craft, illuminating a compass, rendering aid, etc.
*Batteries! Check 'em, have a spare, and a spare spare.
*Reflector tape on hull, paddle and pfd are highly recommended.
*A strobe is the single most useful visible distress signal (VDS) at night. It should be worn on the chest or shoulder and only be used in distress situations.
*Audible signals (horn, whistle, etc.) are essential at night. At least one person in the group should have a VHF radio and be monitoring Ch. 16 and 9. Send a securite warning if you're in a vulnerable position.
*Even more so than in the daytime, there is safety in numbers. Keep the group tight. Rescues and other maneuvers will be just that much more difficult at night.
*Pay particular attention to vessels approaching from the east -- you are especially hard to see against the busy lights of the city.