Alabama Kayaking Laws You Need To Know

Alabama Kayaking Laws Map

One of the items on my bucket list is to kayak, canoe or SUP in all 50 states. So to get ready for that once in a lifetime kayak trip I decided to research and detail the specifics of Alabama kayaking laws.

What are the Alabama Kayak Laws?

  • Alabama Kayak Law – Kayaks and canoes are considered recreational, non-motorized vessels in Alabama.
  • Kayak Registration – You don’t have to register a non-motorized kayak in Alabama
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – Kayaks or canoes with an electric or gas engine must be registered
  • Kayaking Operator Licensing – You don’t need a license to operate a non-motorized kayak or canoe
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – 12 to 13 years old and you need to pass a boater’s safety course and be supervised by someone who’s 21. 14 years and up you can operate a vessel yourself with a boaters safety card.
  • Kayaking Alcohol Law – It’s illegal to operate a vessel with a blood alcohol level 0.08% or above.
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – All persons under eight (8) years of age, must wear a U. S. Coast Guard approved PFD at all times.
  • Kayaking Lights Law – When away from the dock between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility such as fog or heavy rain, you must have the appropriate lighting.
  • Kayaking Sounding Devices – At minimum you need a whistle to use as a sounding device.
  • Kayak Visual Distress Signaling – When kayaking coastal waters you need a (VDS) Visual Distress Signaling device.

The Alabama kayaking laws seem pretty straight forward. But there’s actually a lot of detail in understanding everything you need to kayak safely, legally and still have a great time.

Alabama Kayak Registration Laws

Do you have to register a kayak in Alabama?

The quick answer is no. Alabama boating law states that you must have an Alabama Certificate of Number and validation decals on your boat to legally operate your vessel on public waters. Exceptions include: Non-motorized vessels… (like kayaks and canoes).

Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Alabama?

The quick answer is yes. If you put an electric or gas-powered trolling motor on your kayak, then it must be registered and decals with your Alabama Certificate of Number have to be placed on the side of your hull on the front half of your vessel.

How long do I have to register a motorized kayak?

In Alabama, you have to register a new kayak with a motor within 72 hours. If you buy a used one that’s currently registered in Alabama, you have to fill out and submit an application for transfer within 15 days.

You can register your Alabama kayak at Alabama Law Enforcement Agency – Boating Forms and Permits.

The details of Alabama boat registration laws can be found in the Alabama Code.

Alabama Kayaking Education Laws

Do you have to have a license to operate a kayak in Alabama?

The quick answer is no, unless, as mentioned above, you plan to mount an electric or gas trolling motor on it.

Because Alabama Boating Law states that…

All persons who operate a motorized boat on Alabama waters need to obtain an Alabama Boaters Safety Certification. So if you plan to mount a trolling motor on your kayak or canoe, the following boating education requirements will apply to you.

  • Anyone between the ages of 12 and 13 years can operate a motorized vessel after passing the boater safety certification, but only under the direct supervision of a person who is 21 years of age or older and who also holds an Alabama boater safety certification.
  • Anyone who is 14 years of age or older can operate a vessel legally on Alabama waterways after obtaining the boater safety certification.

Alabama Boating Safety Course

Alabama Kayaking Alcohol and Drug Laws

Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Alabama?

The quick answer is yes. Most states are enacting or have already enacted BUI (Boating Under the Influence) laws.

Alabama law specifically states that it is illegal to be in physical control of any vessel, water skis, or similar device if the operator has a concentration of alcohol in his or her blood of 0.08% or more.

And be careful, though many states are legalizing formerly controlled substances like marijuana, BUI laws include more than just alcohol.

Basically, you can get a BUI while under the influence of any substance which mentally or physically impairs your normal functioning.

Does drinking on a boat make you more drunk?

The quick answer is yes. Drink for drink, consuming alcohol while you’re boating can cause you to become more drunk than while you’re on land.

This happens because the sun, wind and wave motion all add to your overall fatigue. So when you add those factors into the mix with alcohol you can become more drunk even faster than on land.

Drinking Increases Risk of Hypothermia

And because it’s a depressant and lowers your body temperature, alcohol puts you at increased risk of hypothermia in cold weather, and even more at risk if you fall in the water.

Can the police board and search your kayak?

The quick answer is yes. According to the U.S. Constitution, law enforcement personnel can’t search your person or vehicle without probable cause or a warrant.

This doesn’t pertain to boats: The police can board your boat any time, anywhere and without warning, warrant, or probable cause. There’s no fourth amendment on a boat.

Alabama Kayaking Life Jacket PFD Laws

Are life jackets required on kayaks in Alabama?

More and more, boating statistics are showing that wearing PFDs reduces accidental drownings and boating-related injuries and fatalities.

Alabama PFD Age Laws

In Alabama, all persons under eight (8) years of age, on any vessel, must, at all times, wear a U. S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device.

Technically, in Alabama, after 8 years of age you aren’t required to physically wear a PFD in a kayak, canoe, or on a SUP. But it’s just good boating safety to wear a life jacket whenever you’re boating.

One PFD Per Person

Regardless, each person riding in a kayak in Alabama must have an approved PFD, appropriately sized, and readily available inside the kayak.

Vessel Length PFD Requirements

Vessels less than 4.9 meters (16 feet) in length will have aboard a type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device for each person. Vessels 4.9 meters (16 feet) and over in length shall have aboard a type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device for each person and at least one type IV on board as a throwable device.

However, Federal Boating rules state – Any boat 16’ and longer (except canoes and kayaks) must carry a throwable PFD called a Type IV)

Near a Dam? Get your PFD on

In addition, if you’re operating any vessel within 800 feet of any hydro-electric dam or navigational lock or dam, all persons on board must be wearing a U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD (either type I, II, III or IV) in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Alabama boating regulations state that no person shall operate or give permission to operate any vessel on the waters of this state towing a person or persons on water skis, surfboard, spinners, or other similar devices unless such person or persons being towed are wearing a Type I, II, III, or Type V U. S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device (PFD).

So technically, let’s say you lose your kayaking paddle or it breaks and a friend offers to “tow” you in your kayak back to the dock or shore with his/her boat. I’d say you better grab your life vest off the bottom of your kayak and put it on.

Alabama Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights should a kayaker display at night?

Lights While Underway

Alabama boating regulations state that boat operators must make sure that their boats are equipped with the proper navigation lights and use the lights during these conditions:

  • When away from the dock between sunset and sunrise.
  • During periods of restricted visibility such as fog or heavy rain.

When underway, from sunset to sunrise, you must display, if practical, side lights and a stern light. But if you can’t, you must have a flashlight or lighted lantern emitting a white light which must be lit in enough time to prevent a collision.

You should never leave shore without, at minimum, a flashlight. Even if you plan to return before dark, you never know what event may prevent you from returning until after dark.

Lights While Moored or Anchored

All boats are required to display a white light visible from all directions whenever they are moored or anchored away from a dock between sunset and sunrise.

So if you’re anchored up kayak fishing at night, you need that light.

Alabama Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need to have a sounding device when I kayak in Alabama?

In Alabama, vessels less than 16 feet long are not required to have a sound-producing device, but it’s strongly recommended that you carry a horn or whistle on board your kayak.

That being said, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Minimum Equipment Requirements for Recreational Vessels document states that kayaks and canoes must at least have a whistle.

Reasons you should carry a sounding device when you Kayak.

  • Reduced visibility in fog or darkness
  • The small size of most kayaks, canoes and paddle boards
  • The ability to sound your intentions or to hail for help

These all make a sound-producing device an essential piece of kayaking equipment.

The best and most convenient “sounding” device for paddlers is a whistle, attached to your PFD in a place that makes it easy and quick to get into your mouth and use it to signal.

VDS in Coastal Waters

In addition, if you’re kayaking down around Mobile, AL in Mobile Bay or any other coastal waters, the U.S. Coast Guard requires you to have a visual distress signaling (VDS) device between sunset and sunrise. e.g. flares or a flare gun.

Alabama Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my fishing kayak with a trolling motor?

The quick answer is no.

The United States Coast Guard rules are you must carry one B-I (fire extinguisher) any type. Fire extinguishers are required:

  • on any boat with enclosed fuel or engine spaces
  • enclosed living spaces
  • or permanent (not movable by one person) fuel tanks

Related Searches

Alaska Boating Enforcement Entities

Alabama kayak, canoe, and SUP rules fall under the jurisdiction of:

  • the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency – ALEA Boating Rules and Regulations section.
  • In addition, U.S. Coast Guard personnel can enforce the law on federally controlled waters.

Boating Safety Education Resources

Online boating safety courses through® and Boat Ed.

National Safe Boating Council

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