Alaska Canoeing / Kayaking Laws

Thankfully, the governing bodies that oversee Alaska boating regulations and laws, understand that less is more. They have chosen not to micromanage every aspect of public and private life, and as such, they have enacted boating laws that are important and consequential.

Alaska 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.

Canoes and kayaks are mostly left alone and are only included in regulations if they have a motor.

Alaska Canoeing/Kayaking Laws Overview

Governing Body – The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is charged with determining laws and statutes related to boater licensing, and vessel registration.

However, any Official State Peace Officer can enforce boating laws. Peace officers include State Troopers, State Park Rangers and Coast Guard Boarding Officers.

The Alaska Boating Safety Council is involved in legislating laws. It consists of 7 members of the public appointed by the governor based on their interest and knowledge of the boating environment in the state.

Canoe Registration – Canoes and kayaks that are not motorized (powered only by muscles or wind) do NOT need to be registered in Alaska. All canoes and kayaks with a motor must be registered.

Title – titling is not required for a canoe

Cost to Register – Not Applicable for non-powered boats. For mechanically powered canoes/kayaks, the cost is $24.

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 operator of a canoe or kayak without a motor.

Motorized Canoeist Requirements/Age – There are currently no age restrictions for boat operators in Alaska.

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 Alaska law, 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 13 must be WEARING a PFD at all times (in a canoe or kayak). The PFD must be US Coast Guard approved.

Appropriate lighting is required if your canoe or kayak is away from the dock during the night. All canoes or kayaks navigating coastal sea waterways in Alaska must have an appropriate Visual Distress Signal device.

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Do I Need a License or Permit of any kind in order to canoe or kayak in Alaska?

While Alaska does require registering a motorized craft (battery-powered or liquid fuel-powered), it does not require kayaks or canoes to be registered or licensed UNLESS it is being used for professional sport fish guiding.

Technically, you must have an Alaska Certificate of Number and validation decals to operate your vessel on public waters legally. The only exceptions are:

  • Vessels registered in another state or country using Alaska waters for less than 90 consecutive days
  • Vessels owned by the United States government
  • Vessels documented with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)
  • Ships’ lifeboats used solely for life-saving purposes
  • Non-motorized boats, including handmade umiaqs with a walrus or sealskin covering

Your canoe or kayak will fit into the final item on the exception list above so no need to worry about any registration or titling of your canoe in Alaska.


Do I Need a License if my Canoe or Kayak has a Motor in Alaska?

In Alaska 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 by visiting the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles.

The price is reasonable (about $24) and the registration is also referred to as the Certificate of Number.

Titling is another aspect of registration, but any boats under 24 feet, OR non-motorized, need not be titled.

If you care enough to research even further, you can find all the specific State Laws and statutes relating to water vessel registration and related issues, by visiting the Alaska State Legislature webpage using THIS LINK and THIS LINK.

If you plan to register your non-powered canoe (which is optional), or if you are going to have a motorized canoe or kayak (which must be registered), there are specific rules of where the registration numbers are placed, how large they are, etc.

Specifics can be found in the Alaska Boater’s Handbook.


Alaska Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements for Motorized vessels

Do I have to be a certain age to operate a canoe in Alaska with an electric trolling motor?

Amazingly, in this world of endless government regulations, the great state of Alaska does not have any specific requirements for licensing a boat operator.

And perhaps even better news is that you don’t actually need (by law) to have any official certification to operate a boat, so it’s best to be wise and discerning (as a parent/caregiver) as you approach this topic with young people looking to own a motorized vessel like a larger boat or even a canoe/kayak with a trolling motor.

It’s never a bad idea to take a safety course, and we’d recommend THIS ONE for your Alaska Boater Education Card.


Alcohol – Operating Under the Influence (Alaska Boating Laws)

Is it Illegal to drink alcohol while paddling my canoe in Alaska?

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.

In Alaska, as in most governmental jurisdictions, there are rules and limits placed on the consumption of alcohol. If you exceed the allowed limit, the penalties are:

  • First violation. A first-offense BUI carries 72 hours to one year in jail (I know that’s a big variation!), $1,500 to $10,000 in fines, and at least a 90-day license suspension. First offenders are required to use ignition interlock devices (IIDs) on their vehicles for at least six months after license reinstatement.
  • Second violation. A second-offense BUI generally carries 20 days to one year in jail, $3,000 to $10,000 in fines, and at least a one-year license suspension. Second offenders are required to use IIDs on their vehicles for at least 12 months after license reinstatement.
  • Third violation. Most third-offense BUIs carry 60 days to one year in jail, $4,000 to $10,000 in fines, and at least a three-year license suspension. Third offenders are required to use IIDs on their vehicles for at least 18 months after license reinstatement.
  • Third violation within ten years. If a boater’s two prior BUIs occurred within the ten-year period preceding the third offense, the third BUI will be a class C felony. Boaters convicted of a felony-third BUI face 120 days to five years imprisonment, $10,000 to $50,000 in fines, at least a 10-year license suspension, and 60 months of having to use an IID.

Remember also, that a Peace Officer can search your canoe or kayak for any suspected items like alcohol or other restricted or illegal goods.


Alaska Canoe/Kayak Emergency Equipment Requirements

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 Alaska?

You’ll need a number of items of gear for legal and safe travel on Alaska’s waterways.

You will be required by law to have a readily accessible and wearable PFD (personal flotation device) for everyone on board your craft. Anyone under the age of 13 must be actually WEARING the PFD rather than just having it onboard and accessible.

Here’s an overall summary of what is mandatory or only recommended for all vessels under 26 feet in length;

Life Jackets – must be worn by anyone under the age of 13, and there must be one Coast Guard-approved PFD for each person on board.

Throwable Devices – Not mandatory, but recommended

Visual Distress Signals – Night signals are mandatory between sunset and sunrise but day signals are not necessary. Examples of VDS’s include smoke signal devices, flares, signal mirrors, white LED lights, glow sticks and distress flags.

Tide Book – If you’re navigating saltwater, a Tide Table is strongly advised, though not mandatory.

Sound Devices – canoes and kayaks must have the ability to make a loud and efficient noise like produced by a whistle or horn (for use to signal intentions and warnings in periods of low visibility).

Fire Extinguishers – Not required.

Emergency Locator Beacons – Not required, but I’ve included this piece of equipment because I believe it is something EVERY canoeist should have regardless of where they will paddle or any other variable. ACR makes a very good one (pictured below);

ACR makes the best Emergency Locator Beacon … in my opinion!


Do Adults Have to Wear Life Jackets in Canoes and Kayaks in Alaska?

In Alaska, canoes or kayaks less than 26 feet in length need to have aboard a Coast Guard Approved Personal Flotation Device for each person.


Emergency Sound Device (Alaska Boating Law)

According to Alaska Boating Laws, all boats less than 39.4 feet need to have a device that makes sound. This sound needs to efficiently travel at least half a mile.

Suggested examples are handheld air horns or emergency-style whistles. A loud human voice is not acceptable.

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.

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The HyperWhistle is the loudest whistle currently on the market

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.


Alaska Canoe/Kayak Emergency Lighting (Visual Distress Signals)

Do I need special lights for my canoe in Alaska?

The law in Alaska says that any vessel under 16 feet in length OR manually propelled, must have specific lighting. This is the category under which most kayaks and canoes will fit.

The rule is that you should have a signaling device for night use, and you do not require one for day use.

Acceptable lighting for night signals (if you choose to canoe after dark) are 3 meteor aerial flares, 3 parachute flares, automatic SOS distress light, 3 handheld flares, or bright flashlight(s). LED lights or glow sticks on a string are useful.


Do I need special lighting while canoeing or kayaking in Alaska?

Yes, and white lights of a high intensity like a high-intensity lantern visible from all angles (360 degrees) are acceptable.

Here’s a bow light that is not mandatory, but highly recommended. It’s meant for canoes and it’s very inexpensive but worth its weight in gold (well, you know what I mean!);

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 (Alaska Boating Laws)

Do you need a fire extinguisher in any canoe or kayak in Alaska? 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.

Canoeing in Alaska

Did You Know?

The state of Alaska has over 6,000 miles of coastal shoreline and over 30 million acres of inland lakes? It’s arguably the “last frontier” of true, rugged, beautiful wilderness in North America.

There is absolutely NO SHORTAGE of incredible canoe route information online for this “wild” state!


Alaska’s Boating Rules and Education/Resources

Alaska’s Boating Safety Course is HERE

Alaska Government Boating Rules

Alaska Boater’s Handbook (This is the most extensive resource)

Pete Stack

After 40 years of experience canoeing, camping, fishing, hiking and climbing in the Ontario wilderness, Pete is eager to combine his love for the outdoors with his passion to write. It is our hope that his knowledge can be passed on through this site and on Rugged Outdoors Guide on YouTube.

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