Do Kayaks Have To Be Registered? Kayaking Rules & Regulations Across The USA

You wouldn’t dare to drive your car around without a license plate, current sticker, and valid registration, now, would you?  The same applies to all mechanically-powered boats, vessels navigating federal waters, and operating in the high seas. What does that mean for your paddle-powered kayak, though? Do you have to ...
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Sam OBrien

Founder, Kayaking & Paddle Boarding Expert

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.

You wouldn’t dare to drive your car around without a license plate, current sticker, and valid registration, now, would you? 

The same applies to all mechanically-powered boats, vessels navigating federal waters, and operating in the high seas.

What does that mean for your paddle-powered kayak, though? Do you have to register a kayak, anyway, or are you free to paddle as you please? 

Let’s see what current boating laws have to say on the matter! 

What Is Kayak Registration?

kayak registration -rubber stamps marked with regulations and rules

Kayak registration essentially means that your kayak can be used. If your kayak must be registered then you cannot launch your kayak on public waters without it – well, at least not legally. 

Think of it as similar to vehicle registration: 

Your car has its license plate, sticker (decal), and registration, and your boat does, too. 

All registered kayaks navigating public waters have to be numbered appropriately, have a current state sticker (decal), and have the registration card – or certificate of number – on board as proof of registration. 

On that note, by ” numbered appropriately,” I mean: 

  • Decal numbers should be affixed on the port and starboard sides of the vessel 
  • They should be written in capital letters and measure at least three inches in height 
  • Spaces and hyphens should be included between numerals and letters 
  • The color used for the numbers should contrast the hull’s color 
Perfect Vinyl Boat Registration Numbers & Letters Application

If you fail to meet these requirements or have the necessary documents on board – and you get caught in public waters – it’s highly likely that you’ll end up with a ticket. 

Another similarity between cars and boats that should be mentioned here is the boat title. This legal document acts as proof of ownership – which the actual boat registration does not – and is a one-time purchase by the kayak’s current owner. 

What Watercraft Need To Be Registered?

Picture of different type of kayaks and canoes

As a recreational boat operator – or, in this case, paddler – it’s your duty to ensure that your boat carries the necessary safety equipment and is compliant with state and federal regulations

One of these regulations is, of course, boat registration

Any watercraft designed for recreational use and transportation, equipped with a gas, diesel, or electric motor – including trolling motors – should be registered in its state of principal use. 

If it utilizes a motor – or any other means of mechanical propulsion – it’s subject to boat registration laws in most states. 

That sounds simple enough, right? 

However, some states also require unpowered watercraft, such as kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards, to be registered. 

That’s where things get confusing for many US-based paddlers. 

Do You Have To Register An Inflatable Kayak?

Registering your boat was probably the last thing on your mind when you purchased an inflatable kayak. Trust me; the idea of registering one seems as silly to me as it does to you: 

You can – quite literally – fold the entire thing up into a backpack and throw it in your car’s back seat!

The good news is that inflatables are exempt from boat registration rules in most states. However, some states may require you to register your inflatable kayak – even if it’s not a mechanically-powered one. 

Each state will have a unique set of rules for navigating public waters in inflatable watercraft.  And, may deem different aspects of the vessel important for meeting the criteria whether or not they require you to register your vessel , including: 

  • The length of your inflatable kayak 
  • Whether it’s propelled manually or mechanically 
  • Whether it’s used on state-owned lands 

What’s more, even if it isn’t mandatory by the DMV, the DNR may have additional requirements. Remember to keep site-specific regulations in mind when it comes to state-owned lands. 

What If Your Kayak Has A Motor?

Again, all motor-powered vessels – unless explicitly exempt from this rule – have to be registered with the state department in charge of boat registration. 

Granted, as with everything else, you’ll have to check with your local authorities, but in most cases, yes, you do have to register a motor-powered boat. The same goes even if a trolling motor isn’t its primary means of propulsion. 

Local Boating Laws & Regulations: What States Require Kayak Registration? 

Detail color map of USA with name of states.

As you’re about to see, watercraft registration requirements can vary – and quite drastically so – from one state to the next. 

Washington, DC Kayak Registration Requirements 

According to Washington DC boating laws, all vessels must be titled and registered, regardless of hull length and whether they’re motor-powered or paddle-powered. That includes kayaks, canoes, USCG-documented boats – and watercraft operated in DC waters in general. 

One standard exemption is if your kayak has valid out-of-state registration, and you’re navigating District of Columbia waters for less than 50 consecutive days.

The MPD’s DC Harbor Patrol handles boat registrations in Washington, DC. 

Ohio Kayak Registration Requirements 

The Ohio Division of Parks and Watercraft does require all recreational boats to be registered – with or without title – including kayaks, canoes, inflatable boats, pedal-powered boats, and personal watercraft. 

However, there are a few exceptions. These include vessels documented with the US Coast Guard and those registered in another state, so long as they’re navigating Ohio waters for less than 60 days. 

Minnesota Kayak Registration Requirements 

Minnesota requires all motorized watercraft (regardless of the vessel’s length) and non-motorized boats over 10 feet must be registered by the Department of Natural Resources. That includes kayaks, canoes, SUPs, and inflatable boats. 

Non-motorized boats under 10 feet, vessels documented with the US Coast Guard, or those “visiting” Minnesota waters for less than 90 consecutive days, won’t need a watercraft license. 

Learn more about boating laws and regulations in Minnesota here

Iowa Kayak Registration Requirements 

Paddle-propelled kayaks over 13 feet long and all motorized boats operating in Iowa waters require registration with the Department of Natural Resources. You can still kayak in Iowa waters for 60 non-consecutive days without registration, though.

Conventional kayaks and other vessels with no mechanical propulsion – no motor or sail – are exempt from this rule, provided that the hull is less than 13 feet long. Inflatable kayaks less than 7 feet long and without a motor or sail are also excluded and don’t require registration. 

Learn more about boating registration in Iowa here

Pennsylvania Kayak Registration Requirements 

If paddling in Pennsylvania’s state parks or forests, you are required to register your vessel. That applies to all small boats, kayaks, and canoes, regardless of whether they’re motor-powered or not. 

Alternatively, you can acquire a launching permit – only for non-motorized vessels – issued by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission or state park offices. 

Beginner Guide to Kayak Registration in Pennsylvania: Launch Permit vs. DCNR Permit vs. Registration

States That Require Registration Of Powered Vessels Only 

kayak registration -  USA states with superimposed flag

Many states recognize kayaks as recreational, non-powered vessels – which they generally are. But the second you put a trolling motor on it, your kayak becomes a “motorized vessel.” 

You can’t expect it to be treated as a non-powered boat when it clearly isn’t, can you? 

So, your state’s boating laws will likely require you to register your kayak if it’s fitted with a trolling motor

No surprise there. 

I’ll list a few examples to give you an idea of what to expect, but you should check local laws and regulations regarding kayak registration for this one: 

  • Delaware – State boating regulations require that only Residents of Delaware need to register mechanically-propelled kayaks. Non-motorized kayaks, or similar vessels such as canoes, and out-of-state paddlers navigating Delaware waters for less than 60 days are the exceptions. 

How To Register A Kayak: Paddler’s Guide To Kayak Registration 

Read on to learn more about necessary documents, forms and applications, kayak registration fees, renewals – and everything else you’ll need to register you kayak so to paddle legally in your state! 

What Information Do You Need To Register A Kayak? 

kayak registration - Fill in the name and address in an order form

Researching your state’s boat registration requirements should be your first step, as the information needed for registering a kayak may vary throughout the US. Generally speaking, though, it wouldn’t hurt to gather the following before starting the application process

  • The length of the kayak 
  • Make and model of the kayak 
  • Hull Identification Number or HIN
  • Type of propulsion used (manual or motor-powered) 
  • Bill of sale and manufacturer’s certificate of origin

Getting all the info and supporting documents is probably the most time-consuming – and sometimes, nerve-racking – step in the process. 

But it’s mostly smooth sailing from there; the actual process of registering your kayak is surprisingly straightforward

  • Complete the application form 
  • Provide proof of ownership, including bill of sale, certification of title, and manufacturer’s statement of origin 
  • Pay the registration fee 

That’s pretty much it! 

In most states, kayak registration is handled through the Department of Motor Vehicles or DMV. However, it’s not uncommon for the Department of Fish and Game, Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Licensing – and in some states, the Department of Finance – to deal with boat registration. 

When in doubt, check with the local government – and don’t expect anyone to “bend the rules” for you. If you don’t submit the right paperwork and required information, you can’t expect your application to be successful – or your registration to be issued. 

How Much Does It Cost To Register A Kayak? 

kayak registration - dollar banks note money background

Fees will vary from state to state – and may depend on the type and length of the boat – but are typically required when registering your boat. So, be sure to check your state’s official page to get specific registration fees that apply to you. 

It shouldn’t be too expensive; the average tends to be somewhere in the $25 to $250 range

Considering that it helps keep the waterways safe and provides necessary funding for maintenance, conservation, and upgrades, the costs of registering a kayak aren’t that high. Look at it as a contribution, rather than a mandatory fee. 

How Long Does Registering A Kayak Take?

Old Mailboxes in west United States

You’ll often have three options when submitting your documents and registration application – online, in person, or by mailing it to your local office in charge of boat registration. 

Submitting paperwork should be a relatively quick process, especially if you do everything electronically. However, each application is still reviewed on a case-by-case basis. 

So, generally speaking, it should take around two weeks for your application to be processed and for you to receive your registration card. If you’d like to paddle in public waters in the meantime, you might be able to get a temporary registration issued by an approved boat registration agent. 

How Long Does Kayak Registration Last & How To Renew It 

kayak registration - An image of a nice clock with time to renew

Once you receive your registration sticker or decal, it proves that your kayak’s registration is valid and up-to-date. Its duration will vary by state, but you’re generally looking at a period of one to three years in most countries

Your state’s boat registration authorities should automatically send you a registration renewal form – sometimes months before the currently valid registration expires. What’s more, you can also renew it online. 

Remember to go over everything – correct any errors or make necessary changes – before paying the applicable fee and submitting your renewal form.

Head shot of the editor, Sam O'Brien Editor’s Note

If you lose or damage the registration card, you can apply for a duplicate in the nearest registration office. The fees are minimal, but you’re typically only allowed three or so copies during a single registration cycle.

– Sam O’Brien

Frequently Asked Questions & “What Ifs” Of Kayak Registration 

What If I’m Traveling To A State That Requires Kayak Registration? 

The “state of principal use” – or the state where it’s likely to be used most throughout the year – plays a crucial role here.

Registration laws generally only apply to state residents. If you’re required to register your kayak, you should do so in its state of primary use. However, most states will also have a reciprocity law that allows visitations without the paperwork and fees:

Out-of-state paddlers are often given a window of up to 90 days when the kayak can be used without registering. After that, the state you’re visiting becomes its “state of principal use,” meaning you’ll have to register your kayak accordingly.

What If I Sell My Kayak? How To Transfer Ownership Of A Kayak

If you sell a kayak with valid registration, the new owner should be able to use it without the transfer of ownership, usually for up to 20 to 30 days. In the meantime, you – the last registered owner – are obligated to notify the department about the transfer by sale.  Kayak registration also provided some protection in securing you kayak should it be stolen.

It would be best to double-check with local authorities, but the following items may be necessary to transfer kayak ownership:

  • Original bill of sale
  • Hull Identification Number
  • Completed application for transferring boat ownership
  • Paid fees
  • Proof of ownership signed over by the previous owner

What If I Die? How To Transfer Kayak Ownership On Death 

Transferring the kayak’s title when the previous owner has passed away can be relatively complex, depending on several factors. The first step is to establish if the current title is in the individual’s name or joint ownership and if the decedent left a will.

In any way, transferring kayak ownership on death will generally require the new owner to submit the following:

  • Completed Certification of Authority
  • The application
  • The bill of sale
  • The original title signed by the seller (administrator of the decedent’s estate)
  • A copy of the death certificate
  • A copy of the will (when applicable)
  • Any transfer fees

Do Kayaks Have To Be Registered: Yes, No, Or Maybe? 

Do you need to register a kayak - Yes, No or -maybe on green Blackboard

You came here today with a seemingly simple question – do you have to register a kayak or not – but as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the answer was anything but straightforward: 

Sometimes, it’s a “Yes,” other times it’s a “No” – with an occasional “Maybe” thrown into the mix. 

It isn’t too helpful when you put it like that, huh? Still, I hope that what you learned today helps you register your kayak or, at the very least, gives you an idea of what to expect throughout the process. 

Oh, and one more thing: 

Don’t take this as legal advice. Although I did extensive research and tried to put together a summary of kayak registration requirements, I’m by no means a legal expert. 

When in doubt regarding boating laws and regulations, it’s always best to talk to your local authorities. 

Photo of author

Sam OBrien

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.

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