New Hampshire Canoeing / Kayaking Laws

Thankfully, the governing bodies that oversee New Hampshire boating regulations and laws, understand that less is more.

10 Best Places To Kayak Massachuset...
10 Best Places To Kayak Massachusetts

New Hampshire 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.

New Hampshire Canoeing/Kayaking Laws Overview

Governing Body – The New Hampshire Department of Safety (State Police) Marine Patrol is charged with determining laws and statutes related to boater licensing, and vessel registration.

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

Title – titling is not required for a canoe

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 – Operators of a vessel with a motor of 25 HP or more must obtain and carry a Boater Safety Education Card. However, operators of vessels with LESS than a 25 HP motor (which includes all canoes and kayaks with motors of any kind) do NOT need a Boater Safety Education Card.

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 New Hampshire 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) while the vessel is underway. The PFD must be US Coast Guard approved.

Please note that some Coast Guard Approved PFDs must be actually WORN in order to be considered “on board”. Check the labeling on the PFD for details.

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 New Hampshire 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 New Hampshire?

While New Hampshire does require registering a motorized craft (battery-powered or liquid fuel-powered), it does not require kayaks or canoes to be registered or licensed.


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

In New Hampshire 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 New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles.

Specifics can be found in the New Hampshire Boater’s Handbook.


New Hampshire Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements for Motorized vessels

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

Amazingly, in this world of endless government regulations, the great state of New Hampshire does not have any specific requirements for licensing a boat operator if the boat has a motor of 25 HP or less.

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


Alcohol – Operating Under the Influence (New Hampshire Boating Laws)

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

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.

That said, it is legally allowed in New Hampshire to have open alcohol on board your vessel for responsible consumption by anyone as long as the operator is not intoxicated (even if his/her blood alcohol levels are below the official threshhold of 0.08%).

Finally, if your blood alcohol level is LESS THAN 0.08% but your actions give evidence to your intoxication, you can still be charged with operating a boat under the influence of alcohol.


New Hampshire 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 New Hampshire?

You’ll need a number of items of gear for legal and safe travel on New Hampshire’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 (while the canoe/kayak is moving) rather than just having it onboard and accessible.

Refer to your PFD’s label to confirm whether or not it must be actually worn in order to be considered “on board” your vessel.

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 (while the canoe/kayak is moving), 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 Need to Wear Life Jackets in Canoes/Kayaks in New Hampshire?

In New Hampshire, 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 (New Hampshire Boating Law)

According to New Hampshire Boating Laws, all boats less than 39.4 feet on FEDERAL waters 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.

However, on non-state waters, the official state boating guide says that “hand, mouth or power whistle” is the acceptable means of on-board distress paraphernalia.

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.


New Hampshire Canoe/Kayak Emergency Lighting (Visual Distress Signals)

Do I need special lights for my canoe in New Hampshire?

The law in New Hampshire says that any vessel under 23 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 New Hampshire?

Yes, and white lights of a high intensity like a high-intensity lantern visible from all angles (360 degrees) are acceptable. The rule says it should be visible for at least 2 miles, though that would depend totally on the weather conditions and atmospheric clarity at any given time.

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 all states and provinces.


Fire Extinguishers (New Hampshire Boating Laws)

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

New Hampshire Paddling!

The U.S. Coast Guard’s 2011 National Boating Survey estimated that 25% of households in New Hampshire own boats and 31% of households had at least one member embark on a canoeing or kayaking excursion that year. Wow, that’s a high level of participation! Kudos to New Hampshire!

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.


New Hampshire’s Boating Rules and Education/Resources

New Hampshire’s Boating Safety Course is HERE

New Hampshire Canoeing Locations Guide

New Hampshire 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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