New York Canoeing / Kayaking Laws

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

Like most states, New York allows for non-motorized canoes and kayaks to be exempt from registration while motorized vessels need to be registered.

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

New York Canoeing/Kayaking Laws Overview

Governing BodyThe New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (Marine Services Bureau) is responsible for regulating and overseeing boating laws in the state of New York.  Here is a link to more information on all the boating laws and regulations in New York

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 York.

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.

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

Who needs a New York boating education certification? – If you were born on or after January 1, 1993, 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).

This law applies to all motorized craft regardless of horsepower. However, you need to be at least 14 years old with the same boater safety certification in order to operate a PWC (personal watercraft)

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.

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 York.

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 of any kind in order to canoe or kayak in New York?

The short answer to this question is NO. While New York 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 York 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 York?

As in many cases, titling is a bit of a question mark in various states. Canoes and kayaks are usually exempt from every regulation as long as they are not motorized. However, the state of New York Boating Guide states the following:

The Department of Motor Vehicles issues titles to all 1987 model

year and newer vessels which are at least 14 feet in length. The

title is your clear proof of ownership which must be surrendered to

a new owner at time of transfer. If your vessel is less than 14 feet,

then the registration certificate serves as the proof of ownership

and must be signed over to a new owner.

New York State Boater’s guide

However, because your canoe is unpowered and small, there is no title requirement in New York.

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

Yes, you’ll need to register your motorized canoe in New York. All motorized vessels with any kind of motor (gas or electric) and any level of power, will need to be registered in New York.



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

If you are under the age of 10, you are NOT allowed to operate a motorized boat. However, if you are 10 or older, you may operate a motorized boat if you meet these conditions:

Jan. 1, 19932020
Jan. 1, 19882022
Jan. 1, 19832023
Jan. 1, 19782024

You can also operate a PWC if you are in possession of a valid NASBLA approved boating course certificate and are 14 years of age or older.

To obtain your valid boating certification (so you can operate a PWC or other motorboat), visit the Official New York Boating Safety Course website.

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

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

Yes, it is illegal in New York to operate a boat while intoxicated. A boater is considered “intoxicated” if his/her blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% or higher. Boaters are, however, allowed to have open containers of alcohol in the vessel so long as the operator is not intoxicated.

As a side note, it’s important to understand that you can still be considered “impaired” if your BAC is below 0.08% IF YOU ACT AND FEEL intoxicated.

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 York 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 York?

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

Children under the age of 12 need to be wearing the PFD while in a canoe or kayak.

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 (canoes and kayaks excepted).

If you are on Federally controlled waters after dark, your canoe/kayak SHOULD 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.

Sound Devices – Officially, New York 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!

Life Jackets for Various Vessels in New York

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 12 needs to be WEARING an approved PFD whether the vessel is moving or not.

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 (New York Boating Law)

According to New York boat laws, all boats within the state boundaries need to have a device that makes a very loud noise. In New York, any powered or unpowered canoe or kayak MUST have a loud noise-making device. 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 York Boating Law)

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

Most of us don’t prance around the ocean or large lakes after dark in our little canoe, but if that does happen either because of an emergency situation or because you’re out there for a specific purpose that can only happen after dark, here are some rules.

  • 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 York 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 York 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.

New York Paddling!

Unlike many states whose lake count is in the double digits, New York offers over 7600 lakes and ponds within its borders. With countless wilderness attractions like the finger lakes and over 70,000 miles of streams and rivers, New York is certainly a paddler’s paradise!

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 York Boating Rules and Certification Information

New York’s Boating Guide can be found HERE

Paddlesports Ideas and Locations for New York

New York Boater Safety Course

Boating FAQs

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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