Alaska Kayaking Laws You Need To Know

Alaska Kayaking Laws

Alaska kayaking laws are designed to help you safely enjoy some of the most breathtaking coastal and inland waterways in the United States. Because while Alaska is known for its natural beauty and ruggedness, its weather and wildlife can be unforgiving to the unprepared.

Alaska Kayaking Laws

  • 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 is not equipped with mechanical propulsion is exempt from registration.
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – If you put an electric or gas-powered trolling motor on your 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 requirements for boat operators.
  • Kayaking and Alcohol – Alaska has enacted a BWI (Boating While Intoxicated) law. (0.08% BAL)
  • Kayaking PFD LAW – Anyone under 13 years old must wear a USCG–approved PFD at all times.
  • Kayaking Lights Law – operators must proper lighting when away from the dock between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility such as fog or heavy rain.
  • 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.

Alaska Kayak Registration Laws

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.” (e.g. Kayaks, canoes and SUPs)

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, then it must be registered and decals with your Alaska Certificate of Number have to be placed in the correct location on your hull.

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.

Alaska Kayaking Education Laws

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

Alaska doesn’t currently require boat operators to complete a boating education course. Though we’d highly recommend you take a boating education course for your own safety.

Minimum Age

Alaska doesn’t have any minimum age requirements for boat operators.

Alaska Boating Safety Course

Alaska Kayaking Alcohol and Drug Laws

Is it legal to kayak and drink in Alaska?

The quick answer is no. 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.

Does drinking on a boat make you more drunk?

The quick answer is yes. Consuming alcohol while you’re boating can cause you to get more drunk than while you’re on land.

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.

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 PFD Laws

Are PFD required on kayaks in Alaska?

More and more, boating statistics are showing that wearing a PFD reduces your chance of accidental drowning and other boating-related injuries.

Alaska PFD Age Laws

In Alaska, anyone under 13 years old must wear a USCG–approved PFD at all times.

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.

Do I need a Type IV throwable on my kayak?

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.

Wear a PFD Near a Dam

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.

Alaska Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night?

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.

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.

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.

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

Overview of USCG lighting for Kayaks

Alaska Kayaking 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

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 – 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.

Alaska Kayaking 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.

Additional Alaska Boating Resources

The specific details of Alaska kayak, canoe, and SUP guidelines can be found on

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.

Boating Safety Education Resources

Kalkomey is the official provider of recreational safety education materials for all 50 states. They provide online boating safety courses through BOATERexam.com® and Boat Ed.

National Safe Boating Council

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