Alaska kayaking laws consider kayaks and canoes to be “non-powered” vessels that are generally exempt from many of the state’s power boating laws.
Not a Lawyer Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. More importantly, I am not your attorney. This article is not legal advice. If you desire legal advice, consult a competent, licensed attorney in your area.
Alaska Kayaking Laws Summary
- Alaska Kayaking Law – Kayaks, canoes and SUPs are considered recreational, “non-powered” vessels and thus exempt from many powerboat regulations.
- Kayak Operator Registration – A boat that isn’t equipped with mechanical propulsion is exempt from registration.
- Motorized Kayak Registration – If you mount an electric or gas-powered trolling motor on your canoe or kayak, then it must be registered.
- Kayak Licensing – Alaska doesn’t have any licensing requirements for boaters.
- Motorized Kayaking Age – Alaska doesn’t have any minimum age requirement for boat operators.
- Kayaking and Alcohol – Alaska’s BWI law, state’s if you’re operating a vessel with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or greater, you are boating while intoxicated.
- Kayaking PFD LAW – Anyone under 13 years old must wear a USCG–approved PFD at all times.
- Kayaking Lights Law – Operators must display proper lighting when away from the dock between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility.
- Kayaking Sounding Devices – Vessels less than 39.4 feet in length are required to carry a whistle or horn.
- Kayaking VDS Law – When kayaking coastal waters, the Great Lakes, or territorial seas you must carry a (VDS) Visual Distress Signaling device.
Here are the specific rules and regulations you’ll need to know in order to kayak safely and lawfully in the great state of Alaska.
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Alaska Kayak Registration Laws
Kayak and Canoe Registration Requirement
Do I have to register my canoe/kayak in Alaska? The quick answer is no. While Alaska boating law states that “a boat placed on water of the state must be titled, registered, and numbered as required by Sec. 05.25.055 of the Alaska Statutes.” Exceptions include: “…a boat that is not equipped with mechanical propulsion.”
That exception includes kayaks, canoes and paddle boards.
Motorized Kayak Registration
Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Alaska? The quick answer is yes. If you put an electric or gas-powered trolling motor on your kayak, it becomes a boat “equipped with mechanical propulsion”. Then it must be registered and decals with your Alaska Certificate of Number have to be placed in the correct location on your hull.
Kayak Registration Resources
- You can register your motorized kayak or canoe at the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles.
- The details of Alaska boat registration laws can be found in the Alaska Statues.
Related Article: Paddle Board Registration
Alaska Kayaking Education Laws
Do you have to have a license to operate a kayak in Alaska? Alaska doesn’t require boat operators to complete a boating education course. Though we’d highly recommend you take a boating education course for your own safety.
Alaska doesn’t have any minimum age requirements for boat operators.
Alaska Boating Safety Education Course from boat-ed.com (affiliate link)
Alaska Kayaking Alcohol and Drug Laws
Can I get a DUI on a kayak in Alaska? The quick answer is yes. Alaska has enacted a BWI (Boating While Intoxicated) law. Alaskan law prohibits anyone from operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol, an inhalant, a controlled substance, or any combination of alcohol, an inhalant, and a controlled substance.
And a person is considered intoxicated if they have a 0.08% blood alcohol level or more as measured within four hours of the time they were operating a vessel/boat.
Finally, by operating a boat on Alaskan waters you consent to a field sobriety test at any time.
Related Article: Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak?
Drinking Increases Risk of Hypothermia
Of particular importance in the chilly air and frigid waters of Alaska, alcohol puts you at increased risk of hypothermia. Alcohol causes your blood vessels to expand, resulting in more rapid heat loss from the surface of your skin.
Police Searches of Your Boat
Can the police board and search your kayak? The quick answer is yes. In 1790 the United States Revenue Cutter Service was established, for of all reasons, to collect taxes on imports. They were authorized to board and search any vessel at any time, for any reason to check for smuggled, and thus untaxed, goods.
The rules governing the United States Revenue Cutter Service haven’t changed much since 1790. It’s now called the United States Coast Guard and they have the same powers to board your boat.
Alaska Kayaking Life Jacket Laws
Alaska PFD Age Laws
ALL children under age 13 must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device when in an open boat, on the deck of a boat or when water-skiing.
One PFD Per Person
Each person riding in a kayak or canoe in Alaska must have an approved PFD, appropriately sized for the waters, and readily available inside the kayak.
Type IV Throwable PFD Rules
Vessels more than 4.9 meters (16 feet) in length also need at least one type IV on board as a throwable device. Except for canoes and kayaks.
Related Article: Kayak Life Jacket Laws by State (50 State List)
Alaska Kayaking Lights Laws
Lights While Underway
Alaska 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.
NOTE: Blue flashing lights are reserved for law enforcement use only.
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.
Sounding Devices Laws
Do I need a sounding device to kayak in Alaska? The quick answer is yes. Vessels less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length and operating in Alaska state waters are required to carry a whistle or horn or some other means to make an efficient sound signal audible for at least one-half mile.
However, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Minimum Equipment Requirements for Recreational Vessels document states that kayaks and canoes must at least have a whistle.
Sound-producing devices must be capable of producing a blast that lasts at least four seconds.
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
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.
Here’s what we consider to be the best whistle for kayaking.
VDS – Visual Distress Signaling
Boats must follow federal requirements, like VDS, in the following waterways:
- Coastal waters
- The Great Lakes
- Territorial seas
So, especially at night, if you’re kayaking or canoeing along the Alaskan coast you’d need to carry flares in your kayak or canoe.
There’s a daytime exemption for boats under 16 ft. and manually propelled vessels, but you never know when circumstances will cause you to return after dark. So why not just keep them in your boat.
Fire Extinguisher Laws
Do I need a fire extinguisher on my trolling kayak? The quick answer is no. The United States Coast Guard rules are you must carry one B-I (fire extinguisher) if you have:
- An Inboard engine
- Living spaces
- Double-bottoms that are not sealed to the hull
- Closed compartments where portable fuel tanks are stored
- Permanently installed fuel tanks
Your kayak or canoe, even with an engine, most likely has none of those and thus doesn’t require you have a fire extinguisher.
Alaska Kayaking Safety Laws
Though Alaska doesn’t require any type of education for the paddling sports, BoaterExam.com offers a FREE Paddle Sports Safety Course that we highly recommend taking, especially if you’re brand new to kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding.
The specific details of Alaska kayak, canoe, and SUP guidelines can be found on
- The Alaska Department of Natural Resources Office of Boating Safety website
- The Alaska Boater’s Handbook put out by the Alaska DNR
- Alaska Statutes – Chapter 05.25. Watercraft
- Kids Don’t Float Alaska youth boating PFD program.
Alaska Boating Enforcement Entities
- Alaska Department of Public Safety officers and all other peace officers can enforce Alaskan boating laws.
- In addition, U.S. Coast Guard personnel can enforce the law on federally controlled waters.