Idaho Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regulations)

Idaho Kayaking Laws - Rules and Regulations

Idaho kayaking laws include some unique provisions such as the Idaho Protection Against Invasive Species Sticker requirements. The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation trains individual county Sheriff’s offices, Idaho sheriff’s deputies and others responsible for patrolling Idaho’s waterways to enforce Idaho kayaking laws.

Then marine deputies participate in boat safety events to educate the public about Idaho boating laws, rules and regulations.

Here’s what you need to know to safely and legally kayak in Idaho.

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.

Idaho Kayak Laws Summary

  • What is a Kayak? – Idaho considers kayaks and canoes to be non-motor powered vessels that have no mechanical propulsion (i.e., are paddled, poled, oared or windblown)
  • Idaho Kayak Registration – manually propelled vessels, like kayaks and canoes, are exempted from registration.
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – You must have a Certificate of Registration and validation stickers to legally operate your motorized vessel in Idaho.
  • Kayak Operator Licensing – In Idaho, there’s no state law specifying a minimum age or education requirement to operate a vessel. But there are county laws that designate age regulations for operating vessels. (check with individual county laws in Idaho)
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – You need to be at least 16 years old to operate a motorized boat on your own in Idaho, but there are some possibilities for younger boaters. See below for specifics.
  • Kayaking BUI Law – Idaho has Boating Under the Influence (BUI) laws—0.08% BAL is considered “under the influence”. 0.02% BAL if you’re under 21.
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – One life jacket on board per person. Idaho law requires kids 14 years and younger to wear their life jacket on all boats 19′ and under.
  • Kayak Lights Law – If a vessel is less than 23 feet long, and underway at night or during periods of reduced visibility, kayaks must carry a 360 degree white light visible for 2 miles.
  • Kayaking Sounding Devices – Required only for vessels 26 feet and longer; however carrying a whistle is recommended.
  • Kayaking VDS Law – All vessels are required to carry night signaling devices. Manually propelled vessels are exempt from carrying day signaling devices. On federally controlled waters (coastline), all vessels are required to carry U.S. Coast Guard-approved night VDS devices.

That only summarizes Idaho boating laws applied to kayaking and canoeing. The details are more in-depth and specific. Read on to find out how to paddle legally in Idaho.

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Idaho Kayak Registration Laws

Do you have to register a kayak in Idaho? The quick answer is no. Kayaks, Canoes and Paddle Boards that are manually propelled are exempted from registration.

Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Idaho? The quick answer is yes. A motorboat less than 16′ long is required to have a Certificate of Number (boat registration) on board. With the current year’s registration validation stickers displayed on each side of the vessel (in front). In addition, vessels over 12′ long with an outboard motor must have a title.

The Certificate of Registration expires on December 31 of each year.

So, if you put an electric or gas-powered trolling motor on your canoe or kayak, then it becomes a motorized vessel under 16′ and thus has to be registered. If it’s over 12′ long it also needs to be titled.

Related Article: Paddle Board Registration

Idaho Kayak Registration Resources

  • Idaho MVD (Motor Vehicle Department) offices
  • You can register your Idaho Kayak or canoe at the Idaho parks and Recreation website on the Registrations & Permits Page.

Idaho Invasive Species Sticker

In a somewhat unique law, Idaho boating law requires that:

…any motorized or non-motorized boat operating in Idaho is required to display an Invasive Species Fund (ISF) sticker. When you purchase and display an ISF sticker, you contribute to a fund that provides vessel inspections, washing stations and informational materials that will assist Idaho with preventing the introduction of aquatic invasive species like quagga mussels

Idaho Parks and Recreation Website

Idaho Invasive Species Sticker Placement.

For non-motorized canoes and kayaks, the Protection Against Invasive Species Sticker should be affixed near the bow above the waterline on the port (left) side, or on top or the vessel if there is little or no waterline distinction.

For motorized canoes and kayaks, the Protection Against Invasive Species Sticker should be affixed next to the current year Registration Validation Sticker on the port (left) side of the vessel.

You can read the full details of Idaho’s Invasive Species laws HERE.

Idaho Kayaking Education Laws

Do you need a license to kayak in Idaho? The short answer is no. But the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation recommends that all boaters take a boating safety class. For motorized kayaks, here are the rules and regulations:

Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in Idaho? There are no minimum age limits to operate a vessel in Idaho. However, individual counties have their own age limit and education requirements for operating vessels. (Check individual county Sheriff’s offices for details)

List of Idaho County Sheriff’s Offices Contact Info

Though Idaho doesn’t have a boating education requirement, even for motorized vessels, many boat insurance carriers give discounts for operators who’ve completed approved boating education courses. Idaho Boater Education Course. (affiliate link)

Idaho Kayaking Alcohol and Drug Laws

Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Idaho? The quick answer is yes. It is a violation of Idaho law to operate a vessel while impaired by alcohol or other drugs. You’re considered under the influence if your blood or breath alcohol (BAL) level is 0.08% or more, or if drugs are detected. Also, anyone operating a vessel who is under 21 years of age and has a BAL of 0.02% is in violation of Idaho law.

Idaho BUI Penalties

Idaho BUIs carry some hefty penalties:

Operating Under the Influence

  • A maximum fine of $1,000 and/or 6 months in county jail
  • Be required to complete a safe boating course.
  • Lose the privilege to operate a vessel for up to 2 years.

Causing Great Bodily Harm, Disability, or Disfigurement is a Felony

  • Sentenced to state Board of Corrections for up to 5 years
  • Be fined up to $5,000
  • Have your privileges to operate a vessel suspended for minimum 1 to 2 years after prison.

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

Idaho Kayak Life Jacket Laws

Do you have to wear a life jacket on a kayak in Idaho? You are not required to “wear” a PFD in Idaho. However, all vessels are required to have a wearable USCG-approved Type I, II, or III personal flotation device for each person. Except children 14 and under, on boats under 19 feet or less, must wear a PFD.

PFDs must be in good condition, properly sized for each person, and be readily accessible.

Idaho PFD Age Rules

When underway or under power, children 14 and under must wear an approved life jacket when they are aboard a boat 19 feet in length or less. This applies to manually propelled boats such as kayaks and canoes.

Idaho Type IV Throwable PFD

Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in Idaho? The quick answer for kayaks and canoes is no. Because the Idaho law states that boats 16 feet and longer (except canoes and kayaks of any length) must also carry a Type IV PFD (ring or cushion buoy).

So your kayak or canoe is exempted from having a Type IV throwable PFD.

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

Idaho Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night?

These are the rules for unpowered vessels, less than 23 feet, when underway in Idaho.

If practical, red and green bow lights must be displayed along with a white stern light visible 360 degrees for a distance of 2 miles.

If not practical, then only the stern light that’s visible 360 degrees and for 2 miles away.

These lights must be displayed when away from the dock:

  • Between sunrise and sunset
  • During periods of restricted visibility

NOTE: Red or Blue lights are reserved for police.

Lights While Not Underway (Moored or Anchored)

Vessels less than 23 feet long are exempt from light laws unless anchored in a narrow channel, fairway, or anchorage, or where other vessels normally navigate.

Idaho Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Idaho? Vessels less than 65.6 feet (20 meters) in length, are required to carry on board a whistle or horn or some other means to make an efficient sound signal audible for at least one-half mile.

The best “sounding” device for kayakers and canoes is a whistle attached to your PFD in a place that’s easy and quick to reach.

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

VDS – Visual Distress Signaling Devices

In Idaho, VDS devices are not required unless you are on federally controlled waters.

At Night

Vessels on federally controlled waters must be equipped with USCG–approved VDSs. All vessels, regardless of length or type, are required to carry night VDS signals when operating between sunset and sunrise.

During the Day

Most vessels must carry day signals, except:

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

Idaho Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Idaho? The quick answer is yes. One USCG-approved type B or Type ABC that’s rated for marine use fire extinguisher is required for all motorboats under 16′ in length.

Additional Idaho Kayaking Resources

Idaho Kayaking Laws and Enforcement

Idaho kayaking laws and all other boating laws are enforced by:

Idaho 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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