Like most states, Alabama’s canoeing and kayaking laws are fair and relatively straightforward. However, every state has at least minor variations in its laws, and sifting through each relevant law for canoeists is what we do best!
Alabama’s canoe and kayak laws allow for non-motorized vessels to be exempt from registration. However, it is mandatory for all canoes and kayaks to have onboard a life jacket for each person and a loud sound-making device like a whistle.
Table of Contents
Alabama Canoeing/Kayaking Laws Overview
Governing Body – The Marine Police Division of the Department of Natural Resources (Montgomery) regulates the boating laws in the state of Alabama.
Canoe Registration – Canoes and kayaks that are not motorized (powered only by muscles or wind) do NOT need to be registered or licensed in Alabama. All canoes and kayaks with a motor must be registered.
Title – titling is not required for a canoe
Cost to Register – Not Applicable
Canoe/Kayak License Requirements – If the craft is powered only by means other than an assisted device like a motor, no license or registration is required.
Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements – No licensing is required for any canoe or kayak without a motor. Licensing is also not required if operating any non-motorized craft.
Motorized Canoeist Requirements/Age – Operators must be 14 years of age or older and in possession of a valid vessel license.
Operating Under the Influence – no person is allowed to operate or be in physical control of a canoe while under the influence of alcohol or drugs once the craft is underway. According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) it is an offense to have a blood alcohol level above 0.08% while operating a vessel.
Emergency Equipment Requirements – As in most jurisdictions, a personal flotation device needs to be accessible to everyone in a vessel. All boaters under the age of 8 must be WEARING a PFD at all times.
Appropriate lighting is required if your canoe or kayak is away from the dock during the night.
Visual Distress Signal (VDS) devices are needed for coastal waters during the night.
Do I Need a License or Permit of any kind in order to canoe or kayak in Alabama?
While Alabama does require registering a motorized craft (battery-powered or liquid fuel-powered), it does not require kayaks or canoes to be registered or licensed.
There are other exceptions to the licensing requirement, including:
• Vessels that are registered and kept in another state
• Boats that have a valid temporary Certificate of Number
• Boats registered in a country other than the U.S. and using Alabama
However, sailboats or rental boats are NOT exempt from registration. You’ll need to register either of those types of vessels. Visit THIS LINK to find out more about rental or sailboat registration.
Do I Need a License if my Canoe or Kayak has a Motor in Alabama?
In Alabama you’ll need to register and license your canoe or kayak if it has a trolling motor or a small outboard gas or diesel motor. You can register and gather more information at THIS LINK.
You can find all the information you need on registering and licensing your motorized canoe or kayak by visiting BOATEREXAM.
Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements for Motorized vessels in Alabama
Do I have to be a certain age to operate a canoe with an electric trolling motor in Alabama?
Yes. In Alabama, the rules for operating a motorized vessel of any kind are clear. You must be at least 12 years old in order to even be eligible to get a vessel operator license. However, if you do get a license and are under the age of 14, you’ll need to be supervised by an adult (over 21) who also is in legal possession of a valid operator’s license.
Once you turn 14, you are legally able to operate the vessel on your own without supervision.
It’s important to note that all operators MUST have their license and certification on their person (ie. on-board) at all times while operating the motor.
Alcohol – Operating Under the Influence (Alabama Boating Laws)
Is it Illegal to drink alcohol while paddling my canoe?
It is illegal to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. This would include not only motorized vessels that have a set of rules from which canoes are typically exempt but also kayaks and canoes that are not motorized in any way.
If you should choose to ignore the law, you’ll get a fine of $2,100 on your first violation, $5,100 on your second violation, and $10,000 on your third violation. In each of these cases, you can also go to jail for a year, and lose your license for varying timeframes depending on your violation status and the judge’s discretion.
Emergency Equipment Requirements (Alabama Boating Laws)
Every state has a different take on what is required or suggested regarding life jackets. I’m a pretty good swimmer, but it’s just become a habit now for me to wear a PFD at all times. In my case, I’ll cheat a bit and take it off or open it for a while if it’s insanely hot and the water is calm, but as a rule, I’d say wear one all the time!
What are the required items I’ll need legally while canoeing/kayaking in Alabama?
You’ll need a number of items of gear for legal and safe travel on Alabama’s waterways.
Life Jackets – You will be required by law to have a readily accessible and wearable PFD (personal flotation device) for everyone on board your craft. This rule applies only to boaters aged 8 and older.
If you’re under the age of 8 years, you must wear a Coast Guard-approved PFD at all times while in your canoe/kayak.
Keep in mind that inflatable PFDs are not approved for children, so you could get a citation if you’re caught with an inflatable style PFD for your child. Inflatable PFDs offer many variables which may not be properly navigated by a very young person (ie. manual deployment of air, accelerated inflation which may result in an incorrect fit on their small bodies, etc.)
Throwable Flotation Devices – Not mandatory
Visual Distress Signals – The minimum requirement is that you have a bright, white light visible from all angles readily deployable in time to avoid a collision.
Navigation Lights – Unpowered vessels require at minimum, a bright white lantern with enough luminosity to prevent a collision.
Sound Devices – Officially, Alabama law says a loud sound-producing device needs to be on board any vessel over 16 feet.
Fire Extinguishers – Not required in canoes/kayaks
Emergency Locator Beacons – Not required, but I’ve included this piece of equipment because I believe it is something EVERY canoeist and kayaker should have regardless of where they will paddle. ACR makes a very good model (pictured below).
ACR makes the best Emergency Locator Beacon … in my opinion!
Do Adults Have to Wear Life Jackets in Kayaks and Canoes in Alabama?
Canoes or kayaks less than 16 feet in length need to have aboard a type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device for each person.
Canoes 16 feet and over in length need a type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device for each person and at least one type IV on board as a throwable device.
Having said this, while we believe it’s not a bad idea, the throwable device rule is not applicable to kayaks and canoes.
Emergency Sound Device (Alabama Boating Laws)
According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (Police), all boats over 16 feet need to have a device that makes sound. For any boats that are not a kayak or canoe (or other 1 – 2 person vessels), that usually means an air horn. However, for canoes and kayaks, there’s no good reason to not carry at least a whistle that is easily attached to your PFD.
We regularly use the FOX 40 whistle that you can get HERE for around $10!
That said, if you’re feeling adventurous, there is a louder whistle that exceeds the typical 115 to 120 decibel level of the Fox 40 line of whistles. The Hyper-Whistle is a great alternative to the Fox 40 though it’s a few dollars more and a tiny bit bigger.
It offers a 2-mile range and can hit up to 142 decibels (dB). You can check it out on Amazon for only about $5 more than the Fox 40.
You may also choose to have an air horn or other device that does not require your lung power, but I find a whistle is more than adequate given its smaller size, lower price, and because it’s maintenance-free and never has to be replaced or recharged or “checked” unless it’s lost.
Alabama Canoe/Kayak Emergency Lighting
Do I need special lights for my canoe in Alabama?
The law in Alabama says that any vessel under 23 feet in length, must have specific lighting. This is the category under which kayaks and canoes will fit.
The rule is that you should have red and green sidelights and a stern light that’s visible from 2 miles. However, the law also states that vessels under 23 feet SHOULD (but are not required) to practice this lighting configuration.
It says if it’s NOT PRACTICAL (and no, it’s not practical for most canoeists or kayakers to do this), then you’ll need to have a white light like a lantern or flashlight that’s quickly deployable when other vessels are nearby.
Here’s a bow light with red and green warning lights (red = port side, green = starboard side) that we highly recommend:
This is the best (and least expensive) option for a portable bow light that satisfies all state/provincial boating regulations.
This is definitely the light I would get if I didn’t already have an excellent light that I use for longer wilderness trips (smaller but not as impressive as this one)!
A stern mounted white light such as this one is exactly what is mandated for use if your canoe or kayak is (for some reason) moored away from shore overnight.
Here’s our choice for an excellent small, effective, and compliant stern light for dusk to dawn voyages.
Here’s a light very similar to the one I actually use in real life on my trips!
Visual Distress Signals (VDS) – Required only on Federally-controlled waters in the state.
Here’s the most convenient night VDS that is compliant with regulations in all states and provinces.
Fire Extinguishers (Alabama Boating Laws)
Do you need a fire extinguisher in any canoe or kayak in Alabama? No, you don’t need a fire extinguisher in a canoe or kayak. Fire extinguishers are meant for vessels typically with a combustible fuel source, motor, etc.
If you should find yourself in a situation where a fire breaks out in your canoe, a simple splash of water (or barring that, a controlled capsize) should do the trick nicely.
Alabama’s Boating Rules
Alabama’s Boating Rules and Regulations can be found HERE