Arizona Kayaking Laws You Need To Know

Every Spring Break I caravan the family to Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Arizona kayaking laws are the last thing on my mind during that trip. Even though I’ve been pulled over and checked out by the sheriff’s patrol boat.

So I thought it might be nice to create a crash course on Arizona kayak, canoe, and SUP laws as a reference for next time. Here are the rules and regulations you’ll need to know in order to kayak safely and lawfully in the great state of Arizona.

Arizona Kayak Laws

  • Arizona Kayak Law – kayaks, canoes and SUPs are considered recreational, “non-powered” vessels in Arizona and thus exempt from some powerboat regulations.
  • Kayak Registration – Non-motorized vessels are exempted from boating registration.
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – As soon as you put a motor on your canoe or kayak it becomes “motorized” and thus subject to registration.
  • Kayaking Operator Licensing – Arizona doesn’t require a boater’s education course to operate a vessel.
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – There are exceptions, but generally it’s illegal for anyone under 12 to operate a vessel with a motor greater than 8 horsepower.
  • Kayaking Alcohol Law – Operating a boat with a blood alcohol level (BAL) of 0.08 or more is illegal and comes with some severe penalties.
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – All children 12 years of age and younger must wear a USCG approved PFD while underway.
  • Kayaking Lights Law – Between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility, you must have the appropriate lighting.
  • Kayaking Sounding Devices – Vessels less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length are required to carry a whistle or horn.
  • Kayaking VDS Law – When kayaking coastal waters you need a (VDS) Visual Distress Signaling device.

That’s the summary of Arizona boating laws as they apply to kayaking, canoeing and SUPs. Discover the details on each of them below on exactly how to have a safe and legal good time paddling.

Arizona Kayak Registration Laws

Do I have to register my canoe/kayak in Arizona?

The quick answer is no. Non-motorized vessels are exempted from Arizona boating registration requirements.

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

The quick answer is yes. Motorized vessels must be registered and decals with your Arizona Certificate of Number and registration decals have to be placed in the correct location on your hull.

You can register your motorized kayak or canoe at the Arizona watercraft registration page of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The details of Arizona boat registration laws can be found in the Arizona Revised Statutes.

Arizona Kayaking Education Laws

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

The quick answer is no. However, Arizona law says that it’s illegal for anyone under 12 to operate a vessel with a motor greater than 8 horsepower unless:

  • There’s an emergency
  • The child’s parent or legal guardian is on the boat with them
  • another person at least 18 years old is on board

Arizona Boating Safety Course

Arizona Kayaking Alcohol and Drug Laws

Is it legal to kayak and drink in Arizona?

The quick answer is no. Arizona has enacted an Operating Under the Influence (OUI) law.

Operating a boat while impaired is illegal. The legal limit for blood alcohol level (BAL) is .08 in Arizona. But the severity of penalties goes up in proportion to how intoxicated a vessel operator is. to start, a BAL level of:

  • 0.08 to 0.15 – “OUI” mandatory 10 days in jail and $1250 fine
  • 0.15 to 0.20 – “Extreme OUI” mandatory 30 days in jail and a $2500 fine
  • 0.20 and greater – “Super Extreme OUI” mandatory 45 days in jail and a $2750 fine
Arizona Safe Boating Video
OUI Checkpoints

By operating a boat on Arizona waters you consent to a field sobriety test at any time.

A.R.S. §5-395.03 , states if you operate (drive) a boat, PWC, or motorized watercraft on any body of water within the state of Arizona, in using the waterway, you automatically give consent to any law enforcement officer who believes you may be under the influence to test you by blood, breath, urine, or other bodily substance, for the purpose of determining your alcohol concentration or drug content.

If you refuse to be tested, whether you’re sober or not, you’ll be subject to civil penalties of up to $1,250. If you are convicted of OUI, you will also have to pay additional civil penalties of $500, and this is excluding any additional court costs that are associated with an OUI conviction.

Does drinking on a boat make you more drunk?

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

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.

Arizona Kayaking PFD Laws

Are life jackets required on kayaks in Arizona?

The simple answer is yes. Must have at least one wearable Type I, II, III, or V U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device for each person on board.

Arizona PFD Age Laws

All children 12 years of age and younger must wear a USCG approved Type I, II, III life jacket (PFD) anytime while underway on any vessel.

One PFD Per Person

All vessels except sailboards and certain racing shells or rowing skulls must have at least one wearable Type I, II, III or V life jacket (PFD) that is U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) approved and of the proper size for each person on board.

Do I need a Type IV throwable on my kayak?

Vessels 16 feet in length or longer, except a canoe or kayak, must have one Type IV USCG approved throwable flotation device on board and readily accessible.

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.

Arizona Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night?

“Manually propelled watercraft (kayak, canoe, SUP) shall carry, ready at hand, a lantern or flashlight showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to avert collision.”

Lights While Underway

Arizona 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 lights are reserved for law enforcement use.

Lights While Moored or Anchored

All boats are required to display a steady white light visible from all directions for at least 2 nautical miles 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.

Arizona Kayak Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a horn to kayak in Arizona?

The quick answer is yes. Vessels less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length and operating in Arizona 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

Generally, boats must follow federal requirements, like VDS, in the following waterways:

  • Coastal waters
  • The Great Lakes
  • Territorial seas

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.

Arizona Kayak Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my trolling kayak?

The quick answer is no. But the rules for powered boats are that fire extinguishers need to be accessible, of appropriate type and fully charged.

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.

Arizona Kayak Safety Laws

Though Arizona 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 Arizona Boating Resources

The specific details of Arizona kayak, canoe, and SUP rules can be found on

Arizona Boating Enforcement Entities

  • Arizona boating laws are enforced by Arizona Game and Fish Department officers, county deputy sheriffs, municipal officers, park rangers, and any other state-commissioned law enforcement officers.
  • 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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