Oregon Canoeing / Kayaking Laws

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

Oregon 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.

But the law doesn’t go far enough in protecting most canoes and kayaks from another type of “registration” called a “waterway access permit” which is mandatory for all muscle-powered vessels over 10 feet in length.

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

Oregon Canoeing/Kayaking Laws Overview

Governing Body – The Oregon State Marine Board is responsible for all boating and water safety laws pertaining to all watercraft including canoeing and kayaking within the state.

Various law enforcement agencies enforce these laws including the State Police from 32 different offices as well as the U.S. Coast Guard (for Coastal and Federal waters).

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

Canoe Registration – Unpowered boats are not required to be registered. However, any human-powered canoe or kayak that is 10 feet or longer will need a Waterway Access Permit. (WAP) The only exception is a youth under the age of 14 (he/she will not need a WAP).

Title – You will NOT need to title your canoe or kayak in Oregon as long as it does not have any type of motor at all – including electric. Any vessel of any kind and any size, with a motor (electric or liquid fuel), will need to be registered and titled.

Information on both registration and titling 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 license or 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 25 HP (that would include pretty much all canoes with trolling motors)

Who needs an Oregon boating education certification? – Anyone born on or after January 1, 1982, and who is looking to operate a boat powered by a motor greater than 25 horsepower. ALSO, if you would like to operate a Personal Watercraft (PWC), you will need a boating education certificate.

Motorized Canoeist Requirements/Age – If you are operating a motorized (MONSTER) canoe with a motor more powerful than 25 HP, then you’ll need to have your Boater Safety Certification.

Otherwise, if your vessel (canoe or kayak) has a motor smaller than 25 HP (or any electric trolling motor) you won’t need any certification.

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 0.08% 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 Oregon.

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 coastal 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 Oregon?

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

The only other canoe or kayak that doesn’t need registration or titling is one that is brought in by a registered user in another state who is operating his/her canoe in Oregon waters for less than 60 days.

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

Thankfully, most states, including Oregon, do not require un-powered boats to be titled. However, you may voluntarily title a canoe or kayak which (in theory) adds a small layer of security against theft.

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

You’ll need to register and title your motorized canoe in Oregon. All motorized vessels (including those with trolling motors) in Oregon need to have a valid registration.


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

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

Oregon 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:

You must be 12 years of age to operate a motorboat in Oregon. Anyone between the ages of 12 and 15 years of age needs to carry a boater education card in order:
• to operate a boat of 10 hp or less without a card-holding adult onboard.
• to operate a boat greater than 10 hp AND need to be in direct supervision by a person 16 years old or older, who also carries a boater education card.
• to operate a personal watercraft (PWC) AND be accompanied by a card-holding adult 18 years old or older, who can take control of the boat if necessary.

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

Alcohol – Operating Under the Influence in the State of Oregon

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

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

Oregon 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 Oregon?

You’ll need a number of items of gear for legal and safe travel on Oregon’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 craft. 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 coastal waters.

If you are on coastal waters or 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).

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, Oregon 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 Canoes or Kayaks in Oregon?

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.

Kids under 13 years old must WEAR the PFD at all times while in a canoe or kayak.

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 (Oregon Boating Law)

According to Oregon boat laws, all boats within the state boundaries need to have a device that makes a very loud noise. In Oregon, 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 (Oregon Boating Law)

Do I need special lights for my canoe in Oregon?

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 Oregon 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 regulations in all states and provinces.

Oregon 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.

Paddling Oregon

To no one’s surprise, Oregon is one of the country’s most picturesque states for paddling. The Willamette River is the best-known water trail in Oregon. It stretches for 187 miles and it’s the 13th largest river by volume in the lower 48 states.

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.

Oregon Boating Rules and Certification Information

Oregon’s Boating Rules and Regulations can be found HERE

Paddlesports Ideas and Locations for Oregon

Oregon 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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