New Mexico Canoeing / Kayaking Laws

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

New Mexico 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.

New Mexico Canoeing/Kayaking Laws Overview

Governing Body – The New Mexico State Parks Division of the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department is responsible for regulating boating laws in the state of New Mexico. 

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

Canoe Registration – Unpowered (human-powered) boats are not required to be registered.

Title – You will NOT need to title your canoe or kayak in New Mexico unless it is motorized. If it’s motorized and longer than 10 feet, it must be titled. Motorized boats shorter than 10 feet must be registered, but not titled.

Information on registering 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), no or registration or licensing is required. If it is powered by a motor of any kind, it will need to be both registered and titled.

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

Who needs a New Mexico boating education certification? – If you were born on or after January 1, 1989, you will need to obtain and carry a boating education course certification card. The course needs to be approved by the NASBLA (National Association of Boating Law Administrators).

You need this course ONLY if you will be operating a motorboat (any canoe or kayak with a motor).

Operating Under the Influence – No person is allowed to operate or be in physical control of a motorboat or vessel (we assume this includes canoes and kayaks) 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 and can even be charged with a BUI infraction with lower blood alcohol content if their actions provide evidence of intoxication.

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 New Mexico.

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 audible for at least half a mile.

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Do I Need a License or permit of any kind in order to canoe or kayak in New Mexico?

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

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 New Mexico for less than 90 days.

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

Do I Need a Title for my Canoe or Kayak in New Mexico?

Titling of a non-powered craft is not required. However, if your canoe/kayak has a motor of any kind, it will need to be titled IF it is 10 feet or longer.

HERE is an excellent resource if you’re looking to replace or to get a title for your vessel.

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

You’ll need to register your motorized canoe in New Mexico. All motorized vessels with any kind of motor (gas or electric) and any level of power, will need to be registered in New Mexico. This includes boats of ANY length if they are motorized.

You must carry the certificate of number (registration) on board with you at all times.


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

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

If your canoe/kayak has any motor attached to it (electric or gas) you will need to have proof of boater safety certification with you, IF you were born after January 1, 1989.

No one under the age of 13 may operate a motorboat in the state of New Mexico without the onboard direct supervision of an adult.

However, even those under the age of 13, must be in possession of their boater education card even with adult supervision.

Alcohol – Operating Under the Influence in the State of New Mexico

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

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

Boaters can still be charged with BUI (boating under the influence) if their blood alcohol levels are lower than 0.08% if their actions provide evidence of their intoxication.

Also, 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.

New Mexico 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 New Mexico?

You’ll need a number of items of gear for legal and safe travel on New Mexico’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.

The official New Mexico Boating Handbook says it’s mandatory for all boats to have a rope at least as long as the vessel, a 1-gallon bailer or bilge pump and an extra paddle or oar.

The context of this rule as well as the description of the items makes me believe that canoes and kayaks are exempt, but that is not explicitly stated.

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 3 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.

The light must be visible for at least half a mile in all directions if moored outside a designated mooring area.

Sound Devices – Officially, New Mexico requires canoes and kayaks to have a loud sound-producing device audible for great distances. 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 to Wear Life Jackets in a Canoe or Kayak in New Mexico?

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 13 needs to be WEARING an approved PFD while in the vessel WHILE it is underway.

NOTE: If the USCG label requires it to be worn to be counted as having a PFD on board, then it must be worn.

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 (New Mexico Boating Law)

According to New Mexico boat laws, all boats within the state boundaries need to have a device that makes a very loud noise. In New Mexico, any powered or unpowered canoe or kayak MUST have a loud noise-making device audible for no less than half a 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 replaced or recharged or “checked” unless it’s lost.

Canoe/Kayak Emergency Lighting (New Mexico Boating Law)

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

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.

The State of New Mexico 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.

New Mexico / 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.

New Mexico Paddling!

According to old cowboy legends of the 1800s, the Bottomless Lakes Region of New Mexico has some strange qualities of bottomless lakes and even giant turtle lake monsters.

In fact, it’s a gorgeous region of the state to enjoy paddling without the nuisance of motorboats whizzing by. See more details HERE.

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 Mexico Boating Rules and Certification Information

New Mexico’s Boating Guide can be found HERE

Paddlesports Ideas and Locations for New Mexico

New Mexico Boater Safety Course

Boat Registration Information

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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