Thankfully, the governing bodies that oversee Texas’ boating regulations and laws, understand that less is more.
Texas 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.
Table of Contents
Texas Canoeing/Kayaking Laws Overview
Governing Body – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is responsible for all boating and water safety laws pertaining to all watercraft including canoeing and kayaking within the state.
Texas game wardens employed by the TPWD are charged with the responsibility of enforcing those laws.
Canoe Registration – Canoes and kayaks that are not motorized (powered only by muscles) do NOT need to be registered or licensed in Texas.
However, if your canoe or kayak has ANY type of motor (no matter the horsepower or pounds of thrust) it must be registered and numbered appropriately on each side of the vessel with the assigned registration numbers.
Title – You will need a title for BOTH your vessel and your motor. The only canoe or kayak that does not need titling is a vessel UNDER 14 feet in length (which, unfortunately, rules out most tripping canoes and expedition kayaks).
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, no license or registration is required. But remember, even if it’s not powered, it will still need a title.
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 15 HP (that would include pretty much all canoes with trolling motors)
Motorized Canoeist Requirements/Age – Amazingly, Texas does not require a boater education card in order to operate a motorized canoe or kayak. There is also no age given for operating such a vessel, though there are more specific requirements once the motor’s HP exceeds 15.
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 BWI (boating while intoxicated) 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 Texas.
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
- Visual Distress Signal – necessary for coastal navigation for any vessel (including canoes/kayaks)
Do I Need a License or permit of any kind in order to canoe or kayak in Texas?
While Texas does require registering a motorized craft (battery-powered or liquid fuel-powered), it does not require non-powered kayaks or canoes to be registered, titled, or licensed.
Do I Need a License in Texas if my Canoe or Kayak has a Motor?
Here are the specifics on titling vessels (and motors);
- All motorized vessels, regardless of length (including any sailboat with an auxiliary engine);
- All non-motorized vessels (including sailboats) 14 feet in length or longer; and
- All internal combustion (gasoline/diesel/propane powered) outboard motors must be titled.
Note that if your motorized canoe or kayak is registered in another state, you won’t need to register or title your boat if it’s only used temporarily in Texas for 90 days or less.
Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements for Motorized vessels in Texas
Do I have to be a certain age in Texas to operate a canoe with an electric trolling motor?
Texas does not restrict the age of anyone operating a non-motorized vessel. There is also no age restriction or qualification necessary to operate a motorized vessel under 15 HP.
Restrictions only come into play if the motorized vessel is of a power greater than 15 HP or is a Personal Watercraft (PWC) OR is a sailboat over 14 feet long.
Anyone UNDER the age of 13 can operate such vessels if he/she is supervised by someone who:
- Is at least 18 years old
- Can lawfully operate the craft
- Is on board the vessel during the time of operation
Anyone 13 years old or older (and born on or after September 1, 1993) is allowed to operate a vessel (as outlined above) without supervision IF they have passed an official boater education course (approved by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department) and has the certification card on his/her person.
To obtain your valid boating certification (so you can operate a PWC or other motorboat), visit the Official Texas Boating Safety Course website.
Alcohol – Operating Under the Influence in the State of Texas
Is it illegal to drink alcohol while paddling my canoe in Texas?
It is illegal to drink beyond a threshold of 0.08% blood alcohol content. Boating under the influence in Texas can result in the loss of a driver’s license under certain circumstances.
Having said this, Texas is very clear that they allow open bottles of alcohol on boats for responsible consumption by anyone onboard – including the operator (as long as blood alcohol content does not exceed 0.08%).
Texas 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 Texas?
You’ll need a number of items of gear for legal and safe travel on Texas’ 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)
All children under the age of 13 must wear an approved PFD in any vessel while it is underway (moving).
Throwable Flotation Devices – Not mandatory
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. You’ll need daytime and nighttime VDS’s if your boat is over 16 feet, but only nighttime VDS’s if your canoe is shorter than 16 feet.
Examples of VDS’s include flares, smoke signals and non-pyrotechnic devices.
Navigation Lights – Unpowered vessels require, at minimum, a bright white lantern with enough luminosity to prevent a collision.
Sound Devices – Officially, Texas requires canoes and kayaks to have a loud sound-producing device. 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).
Do Adults Have to Wear Life Jackets in a Canoe or Kayak in Texas?
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 the 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.
Emergency Sound Device (Texas Boating Law)
According to Texas boat laws, all boats within the state boundaries need to have a device that makes a very loud noise. In Texas, 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.
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 (Texas Boating Law)
Do I need special lights for my canoe in Texas?
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 Texas encourages users of kayaks and canoes (after dark) to display the bow red/green lights as well when underway.
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.
Visual Distress Signals (VDS) – Required only on coastal waters. Vessels under 16 feet need only a daytime VDS while larger boats need both day and night VDS signal(s).
Texas 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.
Texas Boating Rules and Certification Information
Texas’ Boating Rules and Regulations can be found HERE