Before you Kayak or canoe in Arkansas, you should familiarize yourself with some very specific Arkansas kayaking laws. Because of all the states, Arkansas has some rules and regulations specifically aimed at kayakers, canoeists and other paddlers.
However, don’t let that stop you, because the 135-mile long Buffalo National River in Northern Arkansas—the first national river in the United States—is reason enough to kayak in Arkansas.
Arkansas Kayaking Laws
- Arkansas Kayak Law – kayaks, canoes and SUPs are considered non-powered vessels in Arkansas. However, there are some special regulations for them.
- Kayak Registration – Vessels that aren’t propelled by an engine or by sail don’t need registration.
- Motorized Kayak Registration – You must have a registration and boat decals to legally operate a powered vessel or sailboat.
- Kayaking Operator Licensing – Anyone born after January 1, 1986, must have successfully completed an approved Boating Education Course.
- Motorized Kayaking Age – While operating a boat with an engine 10 horsepower or more, a person 12 years of age or older must satisfy the boating education requirement and be under the direct supervision of a person at least 18 years old.
- Kayaking Alcohol Law – It’s illegal to operate a motor boat if you have a blood alcohol level (BAL) of 0.08% or more, or under 21 and have a 0.02% BAL or more.
- Kayaking Life Jacket Law – One USCG approved life jacket, properly sized, per person. And children 12 and younger must wear it at all times.
- Kayaking Lights Law – Between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility, you must have legal 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 – No visual distress signaling device is required in Arkansas.
That’s the summary of Arkansas 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.
Arkansas Kayaking and Canoeing Laws
Most of Arkansas’ kayak and canoe-specific laws pertain to small paddling “…vessels easily susceptible to swamping, tipping or rolling…” are to prevent pollution/littering.
Glass Containers Prohibited
No glass containers are allowed in canoes, kayaks, inner tubes or other vessels easily susceptible to swamping, tipping or rolling within the banks of Arkansas navigable waterways, except containers for substances prescribed by a licensed physician.
However, people engaged in removing glass previously discarded by others and found within the banks of an Arkansas navigable waterway may not be charged with a violation for possessing that glass if it is being transported in a secure trash container.
Fasten Cooler Lids
All food and beverages in canoes, kayaks, inner tubes or other vessels easily susceptible to swamping, tipping, rolling must be contained in a sealable or lockable cooler or container that prevents the contents from spilling in the water.
Attach and Use a Trash Container
All canoes, kayaks, inner tubes and other vessels easily susceptible to swamping, tipping or rolling carrying food or beverages must have an attached closeable trash container. The container must be of sturdy construction, or it may be a bag of mesh construction. All trash must be safely and lawfully disposed of. A container is not required for people traveling without foodstuffs or beverages.
Use a Floating Holder for Beverages
All beverages not securely contained in a cooler or litter bag must be held in a floating holder or other device designed to prevent it from sinking beneath the water’s surface.
Arkansas Kayak Registration Laws
Do I have to register my canoe/kayak in Arkansas?
The quick answer is no. Vessels that aren’t propelled by an engine or by sail don’t need registration.
“Boats propelled by sail or motor (including trolling motors) of any type must be registered when operated on public waters. You must have an Arkansas Certificate of Number (registration) and validation decals to operate a motorboat on Arkansas’ public waters. The only exceptions are:
vessels that are not propelled by an engine or by sail.”
The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration governs motor boat registration.
Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Arkansas?
The quick answer is yes. In Arkansas, you must have an Arkansas Certificate of Number (registration) and validation decals to legally operate a motorboat.
You can read the specific registration rules and instructions for registering a motor boat at the Arkansas DMV – Boater Registration page.
Proof of Hull Identification Number (HIN) Requirement
As of January 1, 2017 you must verify the HIN of your vessel in order to register a motor boat.
The details of Arkansas boat registration laws can be found in the Arkansas Code.
Arkansas Kayaking Education Laws
Do you have to have a license to operate a kayak in Arkansas?
Anyone born after January 1, 1986, in order to operate a motorboat or sailboat (if you put a sail on your kayak, this qualifies) must have successfully completed an approved Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (AGFC) Boating Education Course.
Arkansas Motored Kayak and Canoe Age Requirement
For a motorboat powered by an engine 10 horsepower or more, a person 12 years of age or older must satisfy the boating education requirement and be under the direct supervision of a person at least 18 years old.
Arkansas Kayaking Alcohol and Drug Laws
Can I get a DUI on a kayak in Arkansas?
The quick answer is yes. Arkansas has enacted a Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) law that’s pretty strict.
In Arkansas, you’re considered to be intoxicated if:
- You have a blood alcohol level (BAL) of 0.08% or more
- You’re under 21 and have a 0.02% BAL or more
- You’re under the influence of alcohol and/or a controlled substance to such a degree that your reactions, motor skills, and judgment are substantially altered and you present a clear danger of physical injury or death to yourself or to others. (and that pretty much leaves it up to the individual officer to determine whether you are intoxicated even if your BAL is less than the legal limit.)
Arkansas boating law also includes this verbiage, “This includes the operation of any motorboat or other vessel, or manipulation of water skis or other device, while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or both.”
“…or other device…”? That could mean just about anything. The safe bet is don’t drink and kayak, canoe or SUP.
Is a BWI the Same as a DWI in Arkansas?
The quick answer is yes. Arkansas considers a BWI to be the same as Driving While Intoxicated and they penalize you accordingly.
Summarizing Arkansas BWI penalties:
- First conviction – you could lose your actual driver’s license for a period of 6 months. In addition, you could get fined up to $1,000 and jailed up to a year.
- Second conviction – you could lose your driver’s license for 24 months, get fined up to $3,000 and jailed for a minimum of 7 days up to one year.
- Third conviction – you could lose your driver’s license for 30 months, get fined up to $5,000 and jailed a minimum of 90 days up to one year.
- In addition, if you get a BWI in Arkansas, you’ll have to, at your own expense, complete an alcohol education program approved by the Arkansas Highway Safety Program or an alcoholism treatment program approved by the Division of Behavioral Health Services.
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.
Arkansas Kayaking PFD Laws
Are life jackets required on kayaks in Arkansas?
The simple answer is yes. Boating statistics are showing that while recreational boating deaths are on the decline, that as more people participate in the paddling sports, deaths in kayaking canoeing and SUP are increasing. Lack of PFD knowledge and use are a big factor in this.
Arkansas PFD Age Laws
Children 12 years and younger must wear a fitted USCG-approved PFD while in a kayak or canoe.
One PFD Per Person
Everyone in a kayak, canoe or SUP is required to have a USCG-approved wearable type PFD. They must be:
- Correctly sized based on body weight and chest size
- In good serviceable condition
- Readily accessible
Do I need a Type IV PFD on my kayak in Arkansas?
The quick answer is yes. If the kayak or canoe is 16 feet or longer it’s required to have one type IV throwable PFD on board.
Arkansas Kayaking Lights Laws
What lights do I need on my kayak at night?
All motor boats need to have lighting sufficient to make their presence and location known to other vessels. They must be displayed:
- between sunrise and sunset
- during periods of restricted visibility
Unpowered Vessel Lights While Underway
Arkansas has several lakes and rivers under federal jurisdiction. On federal waters the following rules apply to sailboats or vessels that are paddled, poled, or rowed.
If less than 23 feet long:
- If it’s practical, these vessels should have red and green sidelights visible from 2 miles away.
- If it’s not practical, you should have on hand at least one lantern or flashlight shining a white light.
NOTE: Blue lights are reserved for law enforcement use.
Lights While Moored or Anchored
All vesselsare 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.
Arkansas Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws
Do I need a sounding device to kayak in Arkansas?
The quick answer is yes. Vessels less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length and operating in Arkansas 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.
VDS – Visual Distress Signaling
VDS devices aren’t required on Arkansas state waters, but it’s a good idea to carry one anyway, especially at night.
- Handheld flares
- A flare gun
- Handheld smoke device (orange)
- An electric lantern
Are all examples of practical VSDs for your kayak or canoe.
Arkansas 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.
Additional Arkansas Boating Resources
The specific details of Arkansas kayak, canoe, and SUP rules can be found on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s website in the Laws for Kayaks and Canoes on Arkansas Waterways page.
Arkansas Boating Enforcement Entities
Arkansas boating laws are enforced by AGFC officers, sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, state police officers, Department of Parks and Tourism enforcement officers, municipal police officers, and U.S. Coast Guard personnel.
Boating Safety Education Resources
- Kalkomey is the official provider of recreational safety education materials for all 50 states. They provide online boating safety courses for Arkansas through the Boat Ed website.
- In addition, 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.
- United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Paddlecraft Safety page.
- National Safe Boating Council