Massachusetts Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regulations)

Massachusetts Kayaking Laws - Rules and Regulations

Massachusetts kayaking laws are governed and set by Massachusetts General Law (MGL) and enforced by the Massachusetts Environmental Police.

Massachusetts has over 3000 lakes and ponds, hundreds of miles of rivers, and about 1,500 miles of coastline, stretching from New Hampshire to Rhode Island. It’s a kayakers paradise.

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

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.

Massachusetts Kayaking Laws Summary

  • Massachusetts Kayaking Laws – Kayaks and canoes are not specifically referenced in the Massachusetts General Law.
  • Massachusetts Kayak Registration – Non-motorized boats, including kayaks, canoes and paddle boards do not have to be registered in Massachusetts.
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – State law requires the registration of any boat that is powered by a motor and operated on public waterways in Massachusetts. This includes a trolling motor mounted to a canoe or kayak.
  • Kayak Operator Licensing in Massachusetts – Youth who are between 12 and 15 years of age must complete an approved basic boating course in order to operate a motorboat without adult supervision.
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – No person under 12 years of age may operate a motorboat, unless accompanied on-board and directly supervised by a competent person 18 years of age or older.
  • Kayaking BUI Law – Massachusetts has a Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law which prohibits operating any “vessel” while under the influence. A Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more is considered under the influence in Massachusetts.
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – Life preservers are required to be worn by youth less than 12 years of age and canoeists/kayakers from September 15 – May 15.
  • Kayak Lights Law – Vessels less than 16′ including canoes and kayaks must carry night signals when operating between sunset and sunrise.
  • 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 Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts.

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Massachusetts Kayak Registration

Do you have to register a kayak in Massachusetts? You do not have to register a kayak in Massachusetts. Kayaks, canoes and paddle boards are considered non-motorized. 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 Massachusetts? Yes, State law requires the registration of any boat that is powered by a motor and operated on public waterways in Massachusetts. That includes kayaks and canoes with an attached motor.

Massachusetts Vessel Titling: All boats 14 feet or greater in length that are designed for use with a motor, or that use a motor at any time, must be titled.

This would include a squareback or square stern canoe that is “designed” to use a motor. And that is whether or not a motor is actually on it.

Massachusetts Kayak Registration Resources

Related Article: Paddle Board Registration

Massachusetts Kayaking Education Laws

Do you need a license to kayak in Massachusetts? You do not need a license to operate a kayak or canoe in Massachusetts. 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 Massachusetts? Youth who are between 12 and 15 years of age must complete an approved basic boating course in order to operate a motorboat without adult supervision. Upon successful completion students are issued a state “boating safety certificate” which must be in the possession of the certified operator when underway. – (Massachusetts Boating Law Summary)

Massachusetts Kayaking OUI Laws

Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Massachusetts? Yes you can get a DUI on a kayak or canoe in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, it’s against the law to operate a vessel 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 Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has one of the strongest BUI laws in the nation. Your vehicle driver’s license can be revoked for a BUI offense.

In Massachusetts you are considered under the influence if:

  • You have a blood or breath alcohol of 0.08% or greater.
  • You’re impaired by liquor or marijuana, narcotic drugs, depressant or stimulant substances.

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

Massachusetts Kayak Life Jacket Laws

Do you need a life jacket to kayak in Massachusetts? Yes. Every vessel … shall carry one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of Type I, II or III for each person on board, in good and serviceable condition in a readily accessible location.

Massachusetts PFD Age Laws

What age do you have to wear a life jacket in Massachusetts? Life jackets must be worn by all canoeists and kayakers from September 15 – May 15 no matter their age, and at all times and times of year by youth under 12.

Massachusetts Type IV Throwable PFD

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

Massachusetts Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night?

Motorboats (Kayaks or canoes with a trolling motor) must carry and exhibit the following lights when underway,

  • “A bright white light aft to show all around the horizon.”
  • “A combined lantern in the fore part of the vessel and lower than the white light aft, showing green to starboard and red to port, so fixed as to throw the light from right ahead to two points abaft the beam on their respective sides.” – (MGL – PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter90B/Section5)

Unpowered Kayaks must at minimum, carry a white flashlight which can be shown toward an approaching vessel in sufficient time to prevent a collision. (You can’t have the light stowed away)

Or kayakers can display a constant white sternlight and constant red/green sidelights. (You must not show one or the other.)

Massachusetts Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Massachusetts? 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)

Massachusetts Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Massachusetts? No,”Outboard motorboats less than twenty-six feet in length of open construction, not carrying passengers for hire, are not required to carry fire extinguishers.” – (MGL PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter90B/Section5)

Regardless of the law, we 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 Massachusetts Kayaking Laws Resources

Boating Law Enforcement

Massachusetts Environmental Police officers are the main enforcement personnel for Massachusetts boating laws.

in addition fish and game officers, harbormasters, and state police officers are among the other law enforcement personnel that can enforce MA boating lawss.

As always, USCG officers enforce federally controlled waters.

Boating 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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