Minnesota Canoeing / Kayaking Laws


Unfortunately, the governing bodies that oversee Minnesota’s boating regulations and laws, have deemed it mandatory to register your kayak or canoe (if it’s over 10 feet long).

Minnesota does, however, have some good laws that every canoeist, kayaker, sailor, and recreational motorboat operator should be aware of, and thankful for.


Minnesota Canoeing/Kayaking Laws Overview



Governing Body – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is responsible for regulating boating laws in the state of Minnesota. 

Here is a link to more information on all the boating laws and regulations in Minnesota

Canoe Registration – Unpowered (human-powered) boats are not required to be registered if they are less than 10 feet in length. Otherwise, every non-powered craft over 10 feet, and every powered craft regardless of length, must be registered.

Title – You will NOT need to title your canoe or kayak in Minnesota.

A registration form can be found here.

Canoe/Kayak License Requirements – If the craft is powered only by means other than an assisted device like a motor (ie. if it’s human-powered), AND is shorter than 10 feet in length, no registration or licensing is required. Otherwise, all canoes/kayaks over 10 feet long need to be registered.

Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements – No certification or special education is required to operate a non-powered canoe/kayak.

Who needs a Minnesota boating education certification? – You need safety certification if you are 12 to 17 years old, are unsupervised, and will be operating a boat over 25 hp in Minnesota. You also need the safety card if you are 14 to 17 years old, are unsupervised, and will be operating a PWC.

Operating Under the Influence – No person is allowed to operate or be in physical control of a motorboat or vessel that is being propelled with a motor (at the time) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Anyone caught with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher will be in violation of BUI (boating under the influence) laws.

However, it is legal to have alcohol on board a vessel in Minnesota.

Emergency Equipment Requirements – As in most jurisdictions, a wearable personal flotation device needs to be accessible to everyone in a vessel in the state of Minnesota.

The minimum legal requirements for emergency equipment on your vessel (canoe/kayak) includes the following:

  • Life jackets— U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets, of the right size and type, for everyone on board
  • A white navigation light—during low visibility such as fog, heavy rain, night time, dawn or dusk. It must be visible from all angles (or at minimum, a “navigation” light deployable in sufficient time to prevent a collision)
  • Visual Distress Signal – Not necessary in UNLESS you are on Federal waters after sunset and before sunrise.
  • Sound Producing Device – Typically an emergency whistle capable of making a “loud” noise.

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Do I Need a License or Registration of any kind in order to canoe or kayak in Minnesota?



Minnesota is one of the few states that require canoes and kayaks over 10 feet in length (which is about 99% of all canoes sold), to be registered. You will need to place the registration decals on the bow of your canoe/kayak.

Also, you won’t need registration or titling if you bring your canoe or kayak from another state (where it is operated legally with valid registration if required) and use it in Minnesota for less than 90 days.

You may register and title your motorized canoe (if applicable) using THIS LINK.

Here is where you can register and title your vessel if necessary.


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



You’ll need to register your motorized canoe in Minnesota. All motorized vessels with any kind of motor (gas or electric) and any level of power, will need to be registered (Certificate of Number) in Minnesota and also display the appropriate decals/numbers.

You’ll need to have your Certificate of Number available for inspection if asked by an enforcement officer.

BOAT REGISTRATION INFO


Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements for Motorized and Non-Motorized Vessels in Minnesota



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

In Minnesota, you can legally operate a motorized canoe/kayak or a non-motorized canoe or kayak without a boater safety education card.

Here’s where you can begin your State-approved Boater Safety Course.


Alcohol – Operating Under the Influence in the State of Minnesota



Is it illegal to drink alcohol while paddling my canoe in Minnesota?

Yes, it is illegal in Minnesota to operate a boat while intoxicated. A boater is considered “intoxicated” if his/her blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% or higher.

That said, it is legal to carry alcohol on a vessel and it is even legal to exceed the 0.08% BAC limit while you’re navigating a boat that is being propelled by manual means (not a motor).

However, if a boater is impaired by any substance, including prescription drugs, marijuana, or other narcotics, they can still be charged with impaired boating if they fail to pass a field sobriety test or their actions give evidence of their intoxication.


Minnesota Boating Emergency Equipment Requirements



Every state has a slightly 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 Minnesota?

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

Life Jacket – You will be required by law to have a readily accessible and wearable PFD (personal flotation device) for everyone on board your canoe/kayak. They need to be Type I, II or III (or a wearable V)

Throwable Flotation Devices – Not mandatory in canoes or kayaks.

Manual Bailing Device – Not officially mandatory, but it’s a VERY good idea to have one.

Visual Distress Signals (VDS) – Not required unless your vessel is in Federally-controlled waters.

If you are on Federally controlled waters after dark, your canoe/kayak will need to have a minimum of three night VDS’s (or day/night VDS’s like a flare or red meteor). You do not need to carry a daytime VDS if you are operating a human-powered canoe or kayak.

Note: The VDS requirement assumes you are on the water after dark.

Navigation Lights – Unpowered vessels require, at minimum, a bright white lantern with enough luminosity to prevent a collision. These lights are required only when the boat is anchored or moving anytime between sunset and sunrise.

Sound Devices – Officially, Minnesota requires canoes and kayaks to have a loud sound-producing device audible for great distances (minimum distance is 0.5 miles). Loud human voices are not acceptable.

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 Need Life Jackets for Kayaking in Minnesota?



Canoes or kayaks of any size/length need to have aboard a Type I, II or III US Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device for each person on board.

Anyone under the age of 10 needs to be WEARING an approved PFD while in the vessel WHILE it is underway (moving).

As usual, certain vessels are exempt from the PFD laws, including racing canoes and racing kayaks in addition to rowing skulls and other racing vessels powered by wind or paddles.

IMPORTANT: It’s worth a mention to note that the PFD must be in good condition (not full of rips/tears with broken straps, etc.) AND must be readily accessible, AND must be of the proper size for the intended user.

Canoe Safety Gear (The Essentials & “Almost” Essentials)


Emergency Sound Device (Minnesota Boating Law)



According to Minnesota boat laws, all boats within the state boundaries need to have a device that makes a very loud noise. In Minnesota, any powered or unpowered canoe or kayak MUST have a loud noise-making device that can produce a sustained blast for 4-6 seconds and be heard for at least a half-mile. 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 recharged or “checked” and never needs replacing (unless it’s lost).


Canoe/Kayak Emergency Lighting (Minnesota Boating Law)



Do I need special lights for my canoe in Minnesota?

If you are operating an unpowered canoe or kayak, you’ll need to have AT LEAST a bright white lantern that produces a light that is visible from every angle and displayed in sufficient time to prevent a collision.

All craft (including canoes/kayaks) must display a white light visible from all angles if anchored anywhere OTHER THAN a designed mooring area.

All canoes/kayaks operating under the power of a motor, must follow all motorized boat lighting regulations including red/green bow navigation lights along with bright white stern light visible for 2 miles.

The State of Minnesota encourages users of kayaks and canoes (after dark) to display the bow red/green lights as well when underway. I’ve included a photo and link below to the best option (which is also the cheapest) for a canoe or kayak.

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 all states and provinces.


Minnesota Canoe / Kayak Fire Extinguisher Law



Fire extinguishers are not required for canoes or kayaks for obvious reasons. 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.


Minnesota Paddling!

Minnesota has 35 State Water Trails and over 4500 miles of canoe and kayak paddling trails and routes.

Interesting Paddle Facts!

If you’ve ever wondered where MOST paddlers paddle, here’s the answer, and it may surprise you!

Of all paddlers in North America, 59% paddle on lakes, 45% on rivers, 19% on oceans, 16% on ponds, and 15% on streams.

Ever wonder how long most paddlers get out on the water?

77% of all paddlers are out only for day trips, while 9% go for an overnight trip. A total of 11% of all canoeists and kayakers head out on multi-day trips like 3 days up to several months. Most of those trips are 3-6 days.


Minnesota Boating Rules and Certification Information



Minnesota’s Boating Guide can be found HERE

Minnesota Boater Safety Course

Minnesota Water Trail Guide


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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