Illinois kayaking laws consider kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards to be unpowered vessels and thus exempted from some Illinois boating laws, rules, and regulations. Here’s what you need to know to safely and legally kayak in Illinois.
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.
Illinois Kayak Laws Summary
- Kayak Definition – Illinois kayak laws consider kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards to be unpowered vessels exempted from some boating laws.
- Illinois Kayak Registration – Unpowered vessels, like kayaks, canoes, and SUPs are exempted from boating registration.
- Motorized Kayak Registration – You must have an Illinois Certificate of Number (registration), expiration decals, and Certificate of Title to operate your powered kayak or canoe legally in Illinois.
- Kayak Operator Licensing – There are no legal age requirements to operate unpowered kayaks or canoes in Illinois.
- Motorized Kayaking Age – No one under 10 may operate a motorized vessel. 10-12 may operate a motorized vessel but only under direct parent or guardian supervision. If you were born on or after January 1, 1998 you must have a valid Boating Safety Certificate to operate a motorized vessel powered by a motor with more than 10 horsepower.
- Kayaking BUI Law – Illinois law prohibits operating or being in control of any watercraft within the state while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The term “watercraft” includes motorized and non-motorized vessels. (kayaks, canoes, SUPs, etc.)
- Kayaking Life Jacket Law – One life jacket on board per person. Illinois law requires children under 13 to wear their life jacket on all boats 26′ 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 Illinois 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 Illinois.
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Illinois Kayak Registration
Do you have to register a kayak in Illinois? You do not have to register a kayak in Illinois. Kayaks, canoes and paddle boards are considered unpowered vessels by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and thus exempted from registration.
Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Illinois? Yes, all watercraft, including non-powered kayaks, canoes, and other vessels powered by trolling motors, are required to be registered and titled in the state of Illinois.
So in this case, putting a trolling motor—electric or gas-powered—on your canoe or kayak in Illinois it becomes a powered vessel and has to be registered.
Related Article: Paddle Board Registration
Illinois Boat Registration and Safety Act Amendments
These amendments took affect on June 1, 2018.
- Illinois kayak and canoe registrations are valid for 3 years.
- Registrations all expire on September 30 at the end of that 3 year period.
- Vessels under 22 feet are no longer required to have a Certificate of Title.
- Unpowered vessels are no longer required to have a Water Usage Stamp in Illinois.
Illinois Kayak Registration Resources
- Illinois Department of Natural Resources
- You can register your motorized Illinois kayak or canoe at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website.
Illinois Kayaking Education Laws
Do you need a license to kayak in Illinois? You do not need a license to operate an unpowered vessel in Illinois.
Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in Illinois? No one under 10 may operate a motorized vessel. Children 10-12 years old may operate a motorized vessel but only under direct parent or guardian supervision. If you were born on or after January 1, 1998 you must have a valid Boating Safety Certificate to operate a motorized vessel powered by a motor with more than 10 horsepower.
Boat-ed.com Illinois Boater Education Course (affiliate link)
The three major parts of Illinois Boating Education Requirements are:
- No one under 10 may operate a motorized vessel of any kind.
- Children 10-12 may operate a motorized vessel under the direct supervision of a parent or guardian.
- Persons 12 to 17 may operate a motorized vessel with more than 10 horsepower if:
- They complete a Boating Safety Course and have a Boating Safety Certificate that’s accepted by the IL Department of Natural Resources.
- They are with and under the direct supervision of a parent, guardian, or person at least 18 years old and designated by the parent or guardian.
Illinois Kayaking Alcohol and Drug Laws
Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Illinois? Yes you can get a DUI on a kayak in Illinois. In Illinois it’s illegal to operate or allow your vessel to be operated by anyone, including kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, waterskis, surfboards, or similar device while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Illinois BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) level limit is 0.08% or higher.
In Illinois you are considered Operating Under the influence if:
- You have a BAC of 0.08% or more.
- You’re under the influence of any drug which makes you incapable of operating a watercraft.
- You have any amount of cannabis, a controlled substance, or intoxicating compound in your blood or urine.
Illinois BUI Penalties
Illinois BUIs carry these penalties:
Operating Under the Influence
- First Offense – $2500 and/or 1 year in jail
- Repeat Offense – Be required to complete a safe boating course. Can be a class 4 felony, 3 years in prison, and $25,000 fine.
- Causing Injury – Boat operating privileges suspended and possibly charged with class 4 felony.
- Causing Death – Can be charged with a class 2 felony.
The bottom line is that Illinois, like most other states, is serious about regulating and enforcing their BUI laws. So the safe bet as the operator of any watercraft is to forgo drinking until you are safely ashore. And do not plan to operate any vessel under the influence of any substance at any time.
Related Article: Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak?
Illinois Kayak Life Jacket Laws
Do you have to wear a life jacket on a kayak in Illinois? All vessels are required to have a wearable USCG-approved Type I, II, or III personal flotation device for each person. PFDs must be in good condition, properly sized for each person, and be readily accessible.
Illinois PFD Age Rules
Illinois boating law requires that anyone under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket while aboard any watercraft under 26 feet in length at all times when the boat is underway.
Illinois Type IV Throwable PFD
Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in Illinois? No Type IV throwable PFD is required for unpowered kayaks and canoes . “No person may operate a watercraft 16 feet or more in length, except a canoe or kayak, unless at least one readily accessible United States Coast Guard approved throwable PFD is on board.“
So your unpowered kayak or canoe is exempted from having a Type IV throwable PFD.
Related Article: Kayak Life Jacket Laws by State (50 State List)
Illinois Kayaking Lights Laws
What lights do I need on my kayak at night?
Powered vessels, less than 39 feet, when underway in Illinois.
Red and green bow lights must be displayed and visible for 1 mile. And a white stern light visible 360 degrees for a distance of 2 miles.
Vessels propelled by muscular power (Kayaks and Canoes) when underway must carry a lantern or flashlight visible 360 degrees for a distance of 2 miles.
These lights must be displayed when away from the dock:
- Between sunrise and sunset
- During periods of restricted visibility
NOTE: Red or Blue or any colored oscillating lights are reserved for police.
Lights While Not Underway (Moored or Anchored)
Vessels at anchor between sunset and sunrise shall display white light visible 360 degrees for 2 miles.
Illinois Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws
Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Illinois? 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. On Illinois state waters, all motorized vessels must have a mouth-, hand-, or power-operated whistle or other device capable of producing a blast that is two seconds or more in duration and 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 Illinois, VDS devices are required on federally controlled waters—Coastal Waters, The Great Lakes, Territorial Seas, and bodies of water directly connected t one of these waters.
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)
Illinois Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws
Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Illinois? Yes, all vessels with an internal combustion engine anywhere in the State of Illinois must have at least one U. S. Coast Guard approved fire extinguisher, so placed as to be readily accessible and in such condition as to be ready for immediate and effective use.
Additional Illinois Kayaking Resources
Illinois Department of Natural Resources – Boating Page
Illinois General Assembly – Boat Registration and Safety Act
Illinois Kayaking Laws and Enforcement
It is the duty of all Conservation Police Officers and other employees of the Department designated by the Director to enforce this Act, and all sheriffs, deputy sheriffs and other police officers to arrest any person detected in violation of any of the provisions of this Act.IL DNR – Boat Registration and Safety Act