Vermont Canoeing / Kayaking Laws

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

Vermont 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.

Vermont Canoeing/Kayaking Laws Overview

Governing Body – The Vermont State Police have the responsibility of educating the public on boating laws as well as enforcing those laws.

In fact, it’s the Vermont State Police who have published the official Handbook of Vermont Boating Laws and Responsibilities.

Canoe Registration – Canoes and kayaks that are not motorized (powered only by muscles or wind) do NOT need to be registered or licensed in Vermont.

If you happen to be on “private” waters, your motor-powered canoe/kayak does not need to be registered.

However, if your canoe or kayak has ANY type of motor (no matter the horsepower or pounds of thrust) it must be registered if it is being used on PUBLIC waterways (which includes virtually all waters in the state).

Title titling is not required for a non-motorized canoe or kayak OR a motorized canoe or kayak with a motor of less than 10 HP.

Information on both registration and titling can be found HERE.

Cost to Register – Not Applicable for non-powered boats. For motor-powered canoes or kayaks under 16 feet, the cost is $31. If the canoe (with motor) is longer than 16 feet, the cost is $49.

Registration fees are valid for ONE year only and must be renewed annually.

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. Otherwise, it must be registered.

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

Motorized Canoeist Requirements/Age – You will need a Boating Education Card in Vermont regardless of age to operate a motorized craft of any power. The certification is issued by the Vermont State Police and is valid for life.

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.

According to Vermont law, it is an offense to have a blood alcohol level above 0.08% while operating ANY (not just motorized) vessel. However, if you are under the age of 21 and have a concentration of 0.02% alcohol or higher in your system, you are also 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.

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 sounding device—horn, whistle or bell
  • A white navigation light—during low visibility such as fog, heavy rain, night time, dawn or dusk.
  • Night time visual distress signal—such as flares (required on federal waterways only)

Unlike in some states, ALL these requirements apply to canoes and kayaks rather than just larger vessels.

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

While Vermont 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 Vermont if my Canoe or Kayak has a Motor?

You’ll need to register your motorized canoe in Vermont. All motorized vessels (trolling motors included) in Vermont need to have a valid Vermont registration and title.

However, no title is necessary if your canoe or kayak is powered by a motor of less than 10 HP.

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 Vermont for 90 days or less.

Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements for Motorized vessels in Vermont

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

Vermont law states that anyone born after January 1, 1974 must complete an approved boating safety education course in order to operate any motorized vessel. The certification is valid for the life of the individual.

Anyone who is 10 or 11 years old must take a classroom course rather than an online course to be certified.

No one under the age of 12 may operate any powered canoe or kayak with a motor of more than 6 HP (which shouldn’t be a problem since a 70-lb thrust electric motor is approximately equivalent to a 1 HP gas motor).

To obtain your valid boating certification, visit the Official Vermont Boating Safety Course website.

Alcohol – Operating Under the Influence in the State of Vermont

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

It is illegal to drink beyond a certain threshold. If you are 21 years old or older, It is illegal to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher.

If you are under 21 years of age, you are in violation of BUI (Boating under the Influence) laws if your blood alcohol concentration is higher than 0.02%.

The list of consequences for multiple infractions (for those both 21 and older and those under 21) are listed on page 38 of the Vermont Boating Handbook.

Vermont 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 Vermont?

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

Of course, if you’re in a canoe (especially in big waters) with a kid of any age, it’s virtually a no-brainer to ALWAYS have him/her wearing a PFD.

Throwable Flotation Devices – Not mandatory

Visual Distress Signals – Officially, canoes and kayaks need only carry NIGHT visual distress signals, and that’s only if they are on Federally controlled waters at night.

However, although Lakes Champlain and Memphremagog are under Federal control, VDSs are not required on those lakes.

Navigation Lights – Unpowered vessels require, at minimum, a bright white lantern with enough luminosity to prevent a collision.

Sound Devices – Officially, Vermont law says a loud sound-producing device needs to be on board any powered or unpowered vessel.

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 Have to Wear Life Jackets in a Kayak or Canoe in Vermont?

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 12 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 (Vermont Boating Law)

According to Vermont boat laws, all boats within the state boundaries need to have a device that makes a very loud noise. In Vermont, 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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is whistle.jpg
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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 (Vermont Boating Law)

Do I need special lights for my canoe in Vermont?

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. This is for vessels both moving or anchored/moored outside a designated mooring area.

The State of Vermont STRONGLY 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!

Here’s the most convenient night VDS that is compliant with regulations in all states and provinces.

Visual Distress Signals (VDS) – Practically, they are not required by anyone operating an unpowered vessel on public waters in Vermont.

Vermont 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 Vermont

Vermont is the second least populated state (after Wyoming) but because of its strategic location in New England (bordering Canada), the environment is perfect for canoeing and kayaking.

This tiny state has over 800 lakes and even more rivers that make it one of the best areas to paddle in the country!

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.

Vermont Boating Rules and Certification Information

Vermont’s Boating Rules and Regulations can be found HERE

Paddlesports Location Information for Vermont

Vermont Boater Safety Course

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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