Maryland Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regulations)

Maryland Kayaking Laws - Rules and Regulations

Maryland kayaking laws are regulated by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and enforced by Maryland Natural Resources Police. And with 3,190 miles of inland coastline along the Chesapeake Bay, numerous inland lakes, not to mention the Susquehanna River, they’ve got their work cut out for them.

Here’s a summary of what you need to know to kayak safely and legally in Maryland.

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.

Maryland Kayaking Laws Summary

  • Maryland Kayaking Laws – Kayaks are considered non-motorized vessels in Maryland and are exempted from some Maryland motorized boating laws.
  • Maryland Kayak Registration – Non-motorized vessels, including kayaks, canoes and paddle boards do not have to be registered in Maryland.
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – All motorized watercraft/vessels with any type of primary or auxiliary mechanical propulsion must be registered in Maryland. This includes a trolling motor mounted to a canoe or kayak.
  • Kayak Operator Licensing in Maryland – All persons born on or after July 1, 1972, must have a Certificate of Boating Safety Education in their possession in order to operate a numbered or documented Maryland vessel.
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – No one under 12 years of age may operate a watercraft or paddlecraft with an attached motor of more than 10 horsepower unless under direct supervision of a person at least 16 years old.
  • Kayaking BUI Law – Maryland has a Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law which prohibits operating any “watercraft” while under the influence. A Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more is considered under the influence in Maryland.
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – One Type I, II, III, or V life jacket on board per person. Maryland law requires children 10 and under to wear a type I, II, or III life jacket at all times and on any watercraft
  • Kayak Lights Law – Power-driven vessels less than 40 feet long must display red and green sidelights on the bow and an all-round white light or masthead light. These lights must be visible from a distance of at least two miles away on a dark, clear night.
  • Kayaking Sounding Devices – Required for vessels under 40 feet long; whistle or horn that’s audible for 2 seconds and paddle boarders must carry a whistle also.
  • 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, all vessels are required to carry U.S. Coast Guard-approved night VDS devices.

That only summarizes Maryland 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 Maryland.

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Maryland Kayak Registration

Do you have to register a kayak in Maryland? You do not have to register a kayak in Maryland. Kayaks, canoes and paddle boards are considered vessels without any type of primary or auxiliary mechanical propulsion. As such, kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards without attached motors are exempted from registration.

Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Maryland? Yes, all watercraft/vessels with any type of primary or auxiliary mechanical propulsion. and operating on Maryland waterways must be registered. Vessels an attached trolling motor including kayaks, canoes and paddle boards must be registered.

There are three (3) distinct requirements for all vessels with primary or auxiliary mechanical means of propulsion:

  1. They must be registered with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
  2. The operator must carry a signed certificate of number document onboard the vessel while in operation.
  3. Vessel numbers must be affixed to both sides of the bow of the vessel.

Maryland Vessel Titling: All motorized “vessels” in Maryland must have a Title. A vessel that doesn’t have a valid Title cannot be registered or have its registration renewed. So if your motorized kayak or canoe requires a registration, which it does, you must get a title for it first.

Maryland Kayak Registration Resources

For more details on Maryland motorized kayak, canoe, and vessel registration, see the:

Related Article: Paddle Board Registration

Maryland Kayaking Education Laws

Do you need a license to kayak in Maryland? You do not need a license to operate a kayak or canoe with no attached primary or auxiliary mechanical propulsion in Maryland. Kayaks and canoes with no attached motor do not require operator licensing or education.

Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in Maryland? All persons born on or after July 1, 1972, must have a Certificate of Boating Safety Education in their possession in order to operate a numbered or documented motorized Maryland vessel. The certificate must be NASBLA–approved and readily available for inspection by law enforcement officers. Maryland Boater Education Course

Maryland Kayaking OUI Laws

Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Maryland? Yes you can get a DUI on a kayak or canoe in Maryland. In Maryland, it’s against the law to operate a motorized watercraft of any kind while impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. You can get the equivalent of a DUI, a BUI (Boating Under the Influence) in Maryland.

In Maryland you are considered under the influence if:

  • You have a blood or breath alcohol of 0.08% or greater.
  • You’re impaired by alcohol.
  • You’re impaired by any drug, combination of drugs, or combination of one or more drugs and alcohol such that you can’t operate a vessel safely.
  • You’re impaired by any controlled dangerous substance.

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

Maryland OUI Penalties

Maryland has minimum court imposed penalties for OUI offenses that escalate quickly. Boating OUIs are treated just like any other motor vehicle OUI offense and are punished the same.

  • First Conviction – Fined up to $1,000, and prison for up to one year.
  • Second Offense – Fined up to $2,000, and prison for up to two year.
  • Third Offense – Fined up to $3,000, and prison for up to three year.

You can read the specifics of Maryland BUI laws at the Maryland Code Title 8, Subtitle 7 – Boating Act. Section 8-738.

Maryland Kayak Life Jacket Laws

Do you have to wear a life jacket on a kayak in Maryland? You don’t have to wear a life vest, but all vessels are required to have a wearable USCG-approved Type I, II, or III, or V personal flotation device for each person. PFDs must be in good condition, properly sized for each person, and be readily accessible.

Proper sizing of life vests/PFDs is by weight of the person using them.

Maryland PFD Age Laws

How old do you have to be to not wear a life jacket in Maryland? Maryland boating law requires that every person under 13 must wear a USCG-approved PFD while onboard a vessel less than 21 feet long, unless the vessel is anchored or moored and they are below deck or in an an enclosed area.

For children under 4 there are additional requirements in Maryland.

Children under 4 must wear a PFD that has additional infant, toddler, or young child safety features. These features must include a strap that is secured between the child’s legs fastened from front to back, and they must have a headrest or high collar that keeps the child’s head above water.

Basically, the theory is that with a strap and floatation above the head of the smaller child you can readily pull them from the water or from the vessel/boat.

So, kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding in Maryland, you have to have a life vest with you and if you’re under 13 you have to wear it.

Maryland Type IV Throwable PFD

Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in Maryland? Motorized watercraft 16 feet and longer must have a Type IV throwable flotation device onboard.

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

Maryland Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night?

Motorboats less than 39.4′ long must have on the bow a combined light that displays green to starboard and red to port. And a bright white light on the stern, visible for 360 degrees. This light must be at least 3.3 feet higher than the bow red and green lights. they must be visible for two miles.

And when “practical”…

Unpowered vessels – All vessels less than 39.4′ long that are paddled, poled, or rowed, such as kayaks, canoes and paddle boards, including unpowered sailboats, must have:

  • Red and green light visible from at least one mile away
  • A white stern light visible from two miles away

And if that’s not “practical”…

Unpowered vessels less than 23 feet long—kayaks, canoes, SUPs included—must have a white light all around for visible 360-degrees and at a distance of two miles.

These lights must be displayed when away from the dock:

  • Between sunrise and sunset
  • During periods of restricted visibility

Lights While Moored or Anchored

Manually propelled vessels like kayaks and canoes that are less than 23′ long are exempt from having a mooring light unless “anchored in or near a narrow channel, fairway, or anchorage, or where other vessels normally navigate.”

Maryland Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Maryland? The Coast Guard requires vessels less than 65.6 feet (20 meters) in length 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 canoeists is a whistle attached to your PFD in a place that’s quick and easy to deploy. And paddle boarders are required to carry a whistle as a sounding device.

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

VDS – Visual Distress Signaling Devices

Visual Distress Signals let you signal for help if you have an emergency. There are daytime and nighttime VDSs. VDSs must be U.S. Coast Guard–approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible.

At Night

USCG rules require that 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)

Maryland Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Maryland? No, you are not required to carry a fire extinguisher on boats less than 16 feet long so long as they don’t have an inboard engine, no closed compartments for fuel, double bottom construction, or permanently installed fuel tanks.

Regardless of the law, we highly recommend carrying a small class B-I fire extinguisher if you have a trolling motor on your kayak or canoe. The worst thing in the world is a fire on a boat with no way to put it out, especially if you’re far from the shore.

Additional Maryland Kayaking Laws Resources

Boating Law Enforcement

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police are responsible for enforcing Maryland boating laws.

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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