Michigan kayak laws are set and governed by the Michigan Compiled Laws and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources enforces those kayaking rules and regulations.
Michigan has over 3000 miles of Great Lakes coastline, thousands of miles of miles of rivers and streams, and over 10,000 lakes. So it’s not surprising that Michigan has the largest number of registered boats of any state in the US.
Here’s a summary of what you need to know about Michigan kayak laws.
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.
Michigan Kayak Laws Summary
- Michigan Kayaking Laws – Michigan law considers kayaks and canoes to be non-motorized vessels.
- Michigan Kayak Registration – Non-motorized kayaks and canoes not used for commercial purposes are exempt from registration.
- Motorized Kayak Registration – All motorized watercraft must be registered with the Michigan Department of State and display a registration decal. This includes a trolling motor on a canoe or kayak.
- Kayak Operator Licensing in Michigan – Boaters born after June 30, 1996 who operate a vessel in Michigan must have a boater education card.
- Motorized Kayaking Age – Anyone less than 12 years of age may operate a boat powered by a motor of no more than 6 horsepower legally and without restrictions. (See below for further restrictions)
- Kayaking BUI Law – Michigan has a Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law. In Michigan, a BUI charge is a misdemeanor offense. A person is operating illegally when their blood alcohol content is .08% or above. (see below for under 21 restrictions)
- Kayaking Life Jacket Law – All vessels must be equipped with a Type I, II, or III PFD for each person on board. (see below for kayak and canoe specifics)
- Kayak Lights Law – Unpowered vessels less than 26 feet long, must have at least one lantern or flashlight shining a white light at all times while in motion.
- Kayaking Sounding Devices – Kayaks and canoes do not need to carry a sounding device in Michigan. However, the Great Lakes fall under USCG federal rules and you need to carry a sounding device like a whistle.
- 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 Michigan 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 Michigan.
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Michigan Kayak Registration
Do you have to register a kayak in Michigan? No. “Nonmotorized canoes and kayaks not used for rental or commercial purposes, rafts, surfboards, sailboards, and swim floats, regardless of length.” – Michigan office of the Secretary of State
Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Michigan? Yes, All watercraft, unless specifically exempted, must be registered with the Michigan Department of State and display a registration decal. All Michigan watercraft registrations expire on March 31 in the third year of issuance..
Michigan Vessel Titling: “All watercraft 20 feet and longer, and all watercraft with a permanently affixed engine, regardless of length, must be titled.”
This statement from the Michigan Secretary of State watercraft webpage is a little vague on what the word permanently means. Because kayak and canoe trolling motors can easily be removed after each use, so in that case you wouldn’t need a Title.
Michigan Secretary of State Watercraft page – Titling and registration links
Related Article: Paddle Board Registration
Michigan Kayaking Operator Education Laws
Do you need a license to kayak in Michigan? You do not need a license to operate a kayak or canoe in Michigan. 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 Michigan? Anyone less than 12 years of age may operate a boat powered by a motor of no more than 6 horsepower legally and without restrictions. Those same persons may operate a boat powered by a motor of more than 6 hp but no more than 35 hp legally only if they have a valid boating safety certificate, have it on board, and are directly supervised by a person at least 16 years of age.
Youth under 12 cannot operate a motorized vessel powered by an engine of more than 35 horsepower under any circumstances.
Michigan Kayaking OUI Laws
Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Michigan? Yes you can get a DUI on a kayak in Michigan. In Michigan, 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 Michigan with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08%. If you’re under 21, it’s 0.02%
And Michigan has a laundry list of State Park sites that restrict the possession and consumption of alcohol.
Related Article: Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak?
Michigan Kayak Life Jacket Laws
Do you need a life jacket to kayak in Michigan? Yes. All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of Type I, II or III for each person on board. And all persons under 6 years of age, when in the open deck area, must wear a Type I or II PFD.
Michigan PFD Details:
- All vessels must be equipped with a Type I, II, or III PFD for each person on board or being towed.
- All vessels have at least one Type I, II, or III PFD that is USCG–approved, wearable, and of the proper size for each person on board.
- A vessel that is less than 16 feet long, or is a canoe or kayak, can choose to have either a wearable PFD (Type I, II, or III) or a throwable PFD (Type IV) for each person on board.
PFD Age Laws
What age do you have to wear a life jacket in Michigan? Life jackets must be worn by all youth under 6 when they are in the open deck area of a boat.
Type IV Throwable PFD
Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in Michigan? On vessels 16 feet and longer must have a USCG–approved Type IV throwable flotation device onboard.
Related Article: Kayak Life Jacket Laws by State (50 State List)
Michigan Kayaking Lights Laws
What lights do I need on my kayak at night? Powered Vessels (kayaks and/or canoes with a trolling motor) less than 26 feet long must have red and green sidelights visible from a distance of at least one mile away, and an all-round white light.
The white light should be higher than the sidelights.
Unpowered vessels less than 26 feet long, must have at least one lantern or flashlight shining a white light at all times while in motion. This applies to kayakers and canoeists.
Michigan Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws
Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Michigan? Kayaks and canoes do not need to carry a sounding device in Michigan. However, the Great Lakes fall under USCG federal rules and you need to carry a sounding device like a whistle.
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
The Great Lakes fall under the jurisdiction of the USCG which requires Visual Distress Signals (VDS) to be carried at night.
Between sunset and sunrise all vessels have to have night VSD on board. Kayaks and canoes must carry electric distress lights or 3 red flares.
Motorized vessels, your kayak or canoe with a trolling motor, that are over 16 feet and all vessels over 26 feet, must carry daytime VSD signalling devices.
Michigan Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws
Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Michigan? No. Even if you have a trolling motor on your kayak, if the fuel tank isn’t permanently installed or in a closed compartment, you aren’t required to have a fire extinguisher.
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 Michigan Kayaking Laws Resources
Boating Law Enforcement
Michigan Department of Natural Resources law enforcement officers are the main enforcement personnel for Michigan boating laws.
As always, USCG officers enforce federally controlled waters like the Great Lakes region in Michigan.