North Dakota Canoeing / Kayaking Laws

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

North Dakota 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.


North Dakota Canoeing/Kayaking Laws Overview



Governing Body – The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is responsible for regulating boating laws in the state of North Dakota. 

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

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

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

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 registration is required.

Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements – No certification or special education is required to operate a non-powered canoe/kayak OR a powered canoe/kayak with a motor of less than 10 HP (that would include pretty much all canoes with trolling motors)

Who needs a North Dakota boating education certification? – If you operate a motorized boat powered by an engine of 10 HP or greater, and you’re between the ages of 12-15, the state of North Dakota requires you to obtain and carry a Boater’s Safety Education Card on the boat at all times during boat operation.

If you’re under the age of 12 you can operate a boat with a 10 HP or stronger motor if there’s an 18-year old (or older) adult on board with you.

If you’re 12-15 years old, you can operate a 10 HP and higher motorized vessel alone if you have your boater safety certification OR an 18-year old (or older) is on board.

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.

Anyone caught with a blood alcohol content of 0.10% 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 North Dakota

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 permit of any kind in order to canoe or kayak in North Dakota?



While North Dakota 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 North Dakota 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 North Dakota?



There are no statutes in the North Dakota boating laws that address the issue of titling.


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



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

BOAT REGISTRATION INFO


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



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

North Dakota does not restrict the age of anyone operating a non-motorized vessel. However, if your canoe or kayak has an electric or gas motor, here are the rules:

  • No person under 12 years of age may operate a motorboat propelled by more than a 10 horsepower motor unless the operator is accompanied by a person 18 years of age or older.
  • No person 12 through 15 years of age may operate a motorboat propelled by more than a 10 horsepower motor unless the operator is accompanied by a person 18 years of age or older or the operator has taken and passed a boating course approved by the Department.
  • No person may cause or knowingly permit a minor under 16 years of age to operate a motorboat propelled by more than a 10 horsepower motor unless the minor is otherwise authorized to do so by this section.

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


Alcohol – Operating Under the Influence in the State of North Dakota



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

It is illegal in North Dakota to operate a boat while intoxicated. A boater is considered “intoxicated” if his/her blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.10% or higher.

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.

NOTE: It is legal in North Dakota for adults to consume alcohol and have open containers in a boat.


North Dakota 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 North Dakota?

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

Life Jacket – You will be required by law to have a readily accessible and wearable PFD (personal flotation device) for everyone under the age of 10 years, on board your canoe or 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 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, North Dakota 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 Kayak or Canoe in North Dakota?



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 under the age of 10.

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 (North Dakota Boating Law)



According to North Dakota boat laws, all boats within the state boundaries need to have a device that makes a very loud noise. In North Dakota, any powered or unpowered canoe or kayak MUST have a whistle or powered horn. 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 (North Dakota Boating Law)



Do I need special lights for my canoe in North Dakota?

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 North Dakota 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.


North Dakota 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.


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.


North Dakota Boating Rules and Certification Information



North Dakota’s Boating Rules and Regulations can be found HERE

Paddlesports Ideas and Locations for North Dakota

North Dakota 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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