West Virginia Canoeing / Kayaking Laws

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

West Virginia 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.


West Virginia Canoeing/Kayaking Laws Overview



Governing Body – The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Agency is charged with enforcing laws and statutes related to boater licensing, and vessel registration. The DNR Law Enforcement Agency is the oldest statewide enforcement agency in West Virginia, serving since 1897.

Canoe Registration – Canoes and kayaks that are not motorized (powered only by muscles or wind) do NOT need to be registered or licensed in West Virginia. All canoes and kayaks with a motor must be registered unless you already have your motorized canoe registered in another state and you’re in West Virginia waters for less than 60 days.

Title – titling is not required for a non-motorized canoe. If your canoe is motorized, it will need titling.

Cost to Register – Not Applicable for non-powered boats. Powered boats have no titling fee if the motor is less than 3 HP. Registration fees are $30 for powered canoes under 16 feet, and $45 for any powered canoe or kayak 16 feet or longer.

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 licensing is required for any operator of a canoe or kayak without a motor.

Motorized Canoeist Requirements/Age – In order to operate a motorized vessel in West Virginia, you’ll need a certificate of boating safety card issued by either West Virginia or ANY OTHER STATE. This applies to anyone born on or after December 31, 1986.

Anyone younger than 15 years old can’t (by law) operate any motorized craft in West Virginia unless he/she is between 12 and 15 years of age and the boat has a motor of less than 10 horsepower. If there’s a person over 18 years of age on board, a 12 to 15-year-old may operate a motorboat of any kind.

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 once the craft is underway. According to West Virginia law, it is an offense to have a blood alcohol level above 0.08% while operating a MOTORIZED vessel.

Emergency Equipment Requirements – As in most jurisdictions, a personal flotation device needs to be accessible to everyone in a vessel (the exception to this rule is a racing shell or racing skull canoe/kayak).

All boaters under the age of 13 must be WEARING a PFD at all times (in a canoe or kayak) while the boat is moving. The PFDs must be US Coast Guard approved.

Appropriate lighting is required if your canoe or kayak is on the water. The law for hand-powered vessels (canoes/kayaks) is to have a bright white light visible from all sides to be displayed in sufficient time to prevent any collision.


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

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


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

You’ll need to register and license your canoe or kayak if it has a trolling motor or a small outboard gas or diesel motor. You can register and gather more information by reviewing the West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles website.

You will need to apply registration numbers on your motorized canoe as well. License fees for canoes/kayaks with a motor of any power are $30, and if the canoe or kayak is 16 feet or longer and has a motor, the fee is $45.

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 West Virginia for 60 days or less.

Do I need a Title for my Motorized Canoe or Kayak?

Motorized vessels that were registered before July 1, 1989 do not need a title in West Virginia. However, you WILL need a title for your motorized canoe. If it has a motor where the HP is less than 3, then no FEE is charged for titling. A 3 HP motor is equivalent to about a 70 lb thrust electric trolling motor.


Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements for Motorized vessels in West Virginia



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

West Virginia does have a minimum age requirement for operating a motorized vessel. They’re not as straightforward as some states (we love Alaska’s laws) but we’ve simplified them here;

  • Anyone under the age of 12 is NOT permitted to operate a motorized vessel (canoe or kayak with a motor) under any conditions.
  • A kid that’s 12 – 15 years old is permitted to operate a motorized vessel if there’s an adult next to him/her on board the vessel. However, they still need to have a Certificate of Boating Safety qualification from any state in the Union.
  • A 12-15 year old kid can operate a motorboat unsupervised by an adult IF he/she has the Certificate of Boating Safety AND the boat’s motor does not exceed 10 HP.

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


Alcohol – Operating Under the Influence

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

It is illegal to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. The official WV boating statues (see section XII part D.) outline that it is illegal to operate any motorized craft with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.08%, but I couldn’t find a specific statue that addresses alcohol in a NON-powered craft (canoe without a motor).

In West Virginia, as in most governmental jurisdictions, there are rules and limits placed on the consumption of alcohol. A boater is considered to be under the influence of alcohol in if he/she;

  • Is under the influence of alcohol and/or a controlled substance to a degree which makes him or her incapable of operating a watercraft safely
  • Has a blood, breath, or urine concentration of alcohol of 0.08% or more

West Virginia’s BUI laws (Boating Under the Influence) have some restrictive penalties, and they are outlined here:

  • First infraction. A first-offense BUI is a misdemeanor and carries 1 – 60 days in jail and $100 to $500 in fines.
  • Second infraction. A second-offense BUI is a misdemeanor and generally carries 6 – 12 months in jail and possibly $1,000 to $3,000 in fines.
  • Third infraction. A third-offense BUI is a felony and generally carries one to three years in prison and possibly $3,000 to $5,000 in fines.
  • BUI involving Bodily injury. A BUI involving “bodily injury” to another person is a misdemeanor and generally carries one day to one year in jail and $200 to $1,000 in fines.
  • BUI involving death. Depending on the circumstances, a BUI involving death to another person can be a misdemeanor or a felony. If the offense is a misdemeanor, the defendant will face 90 days to one year in jail and $500 to $1,000 in fines. However, if the BUI involving death is a felony, the offender can face 1 – 10 years in prison and $1,000 to $3,000 in fines.

West Virginia 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 West Virginia?

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

Life Jackets – You will be required by law to have a readily accessible and wearable PFD (personal flotation device) for everyone on board your craft.

Federal laws say that anyone under the age of 13 must wear a US Coast Guard-approved PFD while the vessel is moving (drifting qualifies as “moving”) so the the only “non-moving” vessel is one that is tethered (ie. to a dock) or anchored.

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 Floatation Devices – Not mandatory

Visual Distress Signals – After dark, a bow light with red/green lights and a stern light visible from 360 degrees is required.

Sound Devices – You’ll have to have (by law) a loud sound-making device audible for at least half a mile.

Fire Extinguishers – Not required on canoes or kayaks.

Emergency Locator Beacons – While not required, 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 Canoes and Kayaks in West Virginia?

Canoes or kayaks of any size/length need to have aboard a US Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device for each person.

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 (West Virginia Law)



According to West Virginia’s boat laws, all motorized boats within the state boundaries need to have a device that makes a very loud noise. In West Virginia, any canoe or kayak MUST have a whistle or powered horn that is audible for at least a half-mile.

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 (West Virginia Law)



Do I need special lights for my canoe in West Virginia?

From sunset to sunrise (AND in periods of restricted visibility) all motorized watercraft and sailboats must display red (port side) and green (starboard side) combined lantern in the front of the boat and a white light aft visible 360 degrees when underway OR not underway.

Here’s the model I would get for any outings after dark (also pictured below):

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.


West Virginia Canoe / Kayak Fire Extinguisher Law

Do you need a fire extinguisher in any canoe or kayak in West Virginia? No, you don’t need a fire extinguisher in a canoe or kayak. Fire extinguishers are meant for vessels typically with a combustible fuel source, motor, etc.

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 for 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.

West Virginia Canoeing Facts!

There are over 2000 miles of navigable, fishable streams in West Virginia (most are open to the public and accessible) that covers over 19,000 surface acres of water.

There are 21 lakes over 100 acres in size that encompass 20,118 acres of fishable and boatable waters. There are 41 small impoundments covering 1,068 acres and 30 ponds covering 204 acres. 


West Virginia’s Boating Rules and Certification Information

West Virginia’s Boating Rules and Regulations can be found HERE

Boater Information for West Virginia

West Virginia 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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