Kentucky Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regulations)

Kentucky Kayaking Laws - Rules and Regulations

Kentucky kayaking laws are implemented and enforced by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. To help you paddle safely and legally, we’ve put together a summary of the Kentucky kayak laws rules and regulations so you’re prepared for your next kayaking trip.

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.

Kentucky Kayak Laws Summary

  • Kentucky Kayak Law – Kentucky considers kayaks and canoes to be non-motorized vessels.
  • Kentucky Kayak Registration – Non-motorized vessels, like kayaks and canoes, are exempt from registration.
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – You must have a Certificate of Registration and validation decals to legally operate your motorized vessel on public waters in Kentucky.
  • Kayak Operator Licensing – There is no age restriction on the operation of a kayak in Kentucky.
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – In Kentucky, you must be 12 years or older to operate a motorboat 10 horsepower or greater on public waters. A person between 12 and 17 years old must carry a certificate showing successful completion of a boater education course. See below for specifics.
  • Kayaking BUI Law – Kentucky has Boating Under the Influence (BUI) laws—0.08% BAL is considered “under the influence”.
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – One life jacket on board per person. Kentucky law requires kids 12 years and younger to wear their life jacket while underway.
  • Kayak Lights Law – Between sunset and sunrise, kayakers must carry a bright white handheld light to signal to other boaters. If practical, red and green bow lights are required as well. See below for details.
  • Kayaking Sounding Devices – Kentucky kayakers are not required to carry sound producing devices, 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’s a summary of Kentucky boating laws that apply to kayaking and canoeing. Here are the details…

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Kentucky Kayak Registration Laws

Do you have to register a kayak in Kentucky? 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 Kentucky? The quick answer is yes. All motorized vessels, regardless of size, are required to have a Kentucky registration certificate on board.

  • Boats with current registration from other states may be used for up to 60 consecutive days in Kentucky without obtaining Kentucky registration.
  • The Certificate of Registration expires on April 30 of each year.
  • Remember – if you put a trolling motor—electric or gas-powered—on your kayak or canoe it becomes a motorized vessel thus has to be registered.

Kentucky Kayak Registration Resources

Related Article: Paddle Board Registration

Kentucky Kayaking Education Laws

Do you need a license to kayak in Kentucky? The short answer is no. But the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends that all boaters take a boating safety class.

Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in Kentucky? You don’t need a license, per se, however there is an education requirement. In Kentucky, you must be 12 years or older to operate a motorboat 10 horsepower or greater on public waters. A person between 12 and 17 years old must carry a certificate showing successful completion of a boater safety education course. Kentucky Boater Safety Education Course (affiliate link)

Kentucky Kayaking Alcohol and Drug Laws

Can you get a BUI on a kayak in Kentucky? Yes. It is a violation of Kentucky 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.

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

Kentucky BUI Penalties

Kentucky BUIs carry some hefty penalties:

Operating Under the Influence

  • First offense – $200 to $250 fine
  • Second offense – $350 to $500 fine
  • Third offense – $600 to $1,000 fine, and/or at least 30 days in jail.
  • All offenders must complete a boating safety course as well. Kentucky Boater Safety Education Course (affiliate link)

Kentucky Kayak Life Jacket Laws

Do you have to wear a life jacket on a kayak in Kentucky? The quick answer is no. All vessels are required to have a wearable USCG-approved Type I, II, or III personal flotation device for each person on board. PFDs must be in good condition, properly sized for each person, and be readily accessible.

When underway or under power, children 12 and under must wear an approved life jacket when the vessel is underway. This applies to manually propelled boats such as kayaks and canoes, as well.

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

Kentucky Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night?

Unpowered Vessels Less Than 23 Feet When Underway

Kayakers are required to carry a white light onboard their kayak. The kayaker is to display the light if another vessel approaches, to avoid a possible collision.

  • If practical, exhibit the same lights as required for unpowered vessels less than 65.6 feet in length, meaning green and red bow lights and a white stern light, visible for a distance of one mile.
  • If not practical, you must have on board a 360-degree white light visible all around on the horizon for a distance of two miles.

These lights must be displayed:

  • Between sunrise and sunset
  • During periods of restricted visibility

NOTE: Red or blue lights are reserved for police.

Lights While Moored or Anchored

Whenever moored or anchored away from a mooring area, between sunset and sunrise, you must display a white light that can be seen in all directions.

Kentucky Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Sounding Devices for Kayaks

Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Kentucky? On any Kentucky waters, vessels under 16 feet in length don’t have to have a sounding device, but it is strongly recommended that a kayaker carry a horn or whistle on board.

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.

Motorized Kayaks

On Kentucky state waters, vessels between 16 feet and 26 feet long must have hand, mouth, or power-operated sound producing device that is audible for at least half a mile.

VDS – Visual Distress Signaling Devices

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)

Kentucky Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Kentucky? The quick answer is no. One USCG-approved B-1 type fire extinguisher is required for all recreational motorboats except Class A or Class 1 boats that don’t permit the entrapment of flammable gasses or vapors.

Class A boats are your kayak or canoe that has a trolling motor, so they are exempted from carrying a fire extinguisher.

Additional Kentucky Kayaking Resources

Kentucky Kayaking Laws and Enforcement

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

Kentucky 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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