Colorado Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regulations)

Colorado Kayaking Laws - Rules Regulations

When I lived in Denver, I had no idea how much opportunity there was to kayak in Colorado. Add that to the 50 state kayaking bucket list, I guess. But before you go kayak one of Colorado’s many lakes, reservoirs or the Colorado river, let’s get familiar with Colorado kayaking 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.

Colorado Kayak Laws Summary

  • Colorado Kayaking Law – Colorado considers kayaks and canoes to be vessels without a motor or sail.
  • Colorado Kayak Registration – Vessels without a motor or sail are exempted and do not have to be registered in Colorado.
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – It is unlawful for any person to operate or use a motorized vessel on the waters of Colorado unless it’s registered. (kayaks and canoes—non-motorized vessel, so you can operate them)
  • Kayak Operator Licensing – Anyone under 14 years of age may not operate a motorboat on Colorado waters.
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – No person under 16 shall operate a motorboat except 14 or 15 years of age may operate a motor boat if they complete a boating safety course and have their boating safety card in their possession.
  • Kayaking Alcohol Law – It’s illegal to operate a vessel while under the influence—0.08% blood alcohol level—of alcohol.
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – All canoes and kayaks, regardless of length, must carry one wearable Coast Guard-approved PFD for each person. And children under 13 must wear it at all times.
  • Kayak 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 – In general, no visual distress signaling device is required in Colorado.

Well, that’s the summary of Colorado boating laws as they apply to kayaking and canoeing. The details are more in-depth. Read on to find out how to safely and legally paddle Colorado waters.

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Colorado Kayak Registration Laws

Do you have to register a kayak in Colorado?

The quick answer is no. Vessels without any motor or sail—canoes, kayaks, and non-motorized rafts—are exempted and do not have to be registered in Colorado.

Do you have to register a motorized kayak in Colorado?

The quick answer is yes. “It is unlawful for any person to operate or use a vessel on the waters of this state or to possess a vessel at a vessel staging area unless the vessel has been numbered and a certificate of the number, referred to in this article as a “registration”

Related Article: Paddle Board Registration

Colorado Kayaking Education Laws

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

The short answer is no.

Colorado Motorized Kayak or Canoe Age Requirement

On a kayak or canoe equipped with a motor, the following age requirements must be met in order to legally operate a motorized vessel in Colorado:

  • No one under 14 years of age may operate a motorboat
  • 14 or 15 years of age may operate a motorboat only if they’ve”
    • Passed a boating safety course approved by Colorado Parks and Wildlife
    • Have in their possession a Boater’s Safety Certificate.
  • Anyone 16 years of age or older may operate a motorboat on Colorado waters.

Colorado Boating Education Course from (affiliate link)

Colorado Kayaking Alcohol and Drug Laws

Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Colorado? The quick answer is yes. Boating under the influence (BUI) is illegal in Colorado. And you are considered under the influence if: You have a 0.08% blood alcohol level, you’re under the influence of any controlled substance that renders you incapable of safely operating a vessel.

Or any combination of alcohol and controlled substance that renders you incapable of safely operating a vessel.

Is a BUI the Same as a DUI in Colorado? The quick answer is yes. Colorado considers Boating Under the Influence (BUI) to be the same as Driving Under the Influence (DUI) penalize you accordingly.

Though, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Boating Statutes and Regulations, a BUI is most likely going to be a misdemeanor in Colorado.

Related Article:Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak?

BUI Penalties in Colorado

First offense

  • minimum 5 days in jail
  • up to $1,000 fine
  • loss of 3 months operating privileges
Colorado Safe Boating Video

Colorado Kayaking PFD Laws

Are life jackets required on kayaks in Colorado? The quick answer is yes. A vessel less than 16 feet must have at least one wearable personal flotation device (PFD) on board for each person.

That PFD must be:

  • Correctly sized
  • In good serviceable condition
  • Readily accessible

Colorado PFD Age Laws

It’s unlawful to operate a vessel w/o every child under 13 years of age on board wearing a PFD of a U.S. Coast Guard approved type.

Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in Colorado?

The quick answer is that vessels 16 feet or longer must have one throwable Type IV USCG-approved PFD on board. (we found no verbiage exempting longer kayaks or canoes)

Related Article: Kayak Life Jacket Laws by State (50 State List)

Colorado Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night?

A recreational motor-powered vessel underway less than 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) is required to display red and green sidelights, and a 360 degree all-around white stern light. They must be displayed:

  • between sunrise and sunset
  • during periods of restricted visibility

Vessel Under Oar Light Law

Every hand-propelled vessel (under oars), shall have a lantern or flashlight on hand to show one white light in sufficient time to prevent a collision.

NOTE: Flashing Red or Blue lights are reserved for law enforcement use.

Lights While Moored or Anchored

Every vessel less than 20 meters (65′ 8″) in length must display one all-round white light when at anchor.

Colorado Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a horn or whistle to kayak in Colorado?

The quick answer is yes. Vessels less than 16 feet must have on board a sound-producing device for signaling. Such device may be operated by mouth, hand, or power and it must be able to produce the navigational signals under rules of the road.

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 to signal.

Here’s what we consider to be the best whistle for kayaking.

VDS – Visual Distress Signaling Devices

All vessels must carry night signals when operating between sunset and sunrise. Most vessels must carry day signals also; exceptions to the requirement for day signals are:

  • Recreational vessels less than 16 feet
  • Non-motorized open sailboats less than 26 feet
  • Manually propelled vessels (kayaks and canoes)

Colorado Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my trolling kayak?

The quick answer is no. Fire extinguishers aren’t required for outboard pleasure boats less than 26 feet as long as:

  • Have no permanently installed enclosed fuel tanks
  • Don’t have spaces where explosive or flammable vapors can collect
  • Closed living spaces
  • Closed sewage compartments

Your kayak or canoe with a trolling engine, probably has none of those and thus doesn’t require you have a fire extinguisher.

Additional Colorado Kayaking Resources

Colorado Parks and Wildlife – Rafting, Kayaking and Canoeing

Colorado Boating Statutes and Regulations

Colorado Boating Law Enforcement

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers and all other law enforcement officers are authorized to enforce the boating laws of Colorado.

Colorado Boating Safety Education Resources


I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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