Minnesota kayak laws are set and governed by the Legislature and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources enforces those kayaking rules and regulations.
Minnesota has over 4000 miles of rivers and streams and connects to Lake Superior. So it’s not surprising that Minnesota is popular for kayaking, canoeing and other boating activities.
Here’s a summary of what you need to know about MN kayaking 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.
MN Kayaking Laws Summary
- Minnesota Kayaking Laws – Minnesota law considers kayaks and canoes to be non-motorized watercraft.
- Minnesota Kayak Registration – Non-motorized kayaks and canoes that are 10 ft. or less are exempt from registration.
- Motorized Kayak Registration – All motorized watercraft must be registered with the Minnesota Registry Of Motor Vehicles and display a registration decal. This includes a trolling motor on a canoe or kayak.
- Kayak Operator Licensing in Minnesota – Boaters must be at least 21 years old, or have a Watercraft Operator’s Permit.
- Motorized Kayaking Age – Anyone under the age of 17 is subject to additional requirements such as supervision by someone over 21 or the ownership of a Watercraft Operator’s Permit. (See below for further restrictions)
- Kayaking BWI Law – Minnesota has a Boating While Impaired (BWI) law. In Minnesota, a BWI charge is a misdemeanor offense with the ability to become a gross misdemeanor. A person is operating illegally when their blood alcohol content is .08% or above. (see below for gross misdemeanor changes)
- Kayaking Life Jacket Law – All vessels must be equipped with a Type I, II, III, or occasionally V PFD for each person on board. (see below for kayak and canoe specifics)
- Kayak Lights Law – Nonmotorized vessels must at least carry a white lantern or flashlight that is visible from at least two miles away.
- Kayaking Sounding Devices – Kayaks and canoes do not need to carry a sounding device in Minnesota. Motorized vessels do require a sounding device. (see below for regulations)
- Kayaking VDS Law – Lake Superior is the only body of water in Minnesota that requires USCG approved Visual Distress Signals (VDS).
That only summarizes MN 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 Minnesota.
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Minnesota Kayak Registration
Do you have to register a kayak in Minnesota? Occasionally. “A watercraft license is not required for: Non-motorized watercraft 10 ft or less” – Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Minnesota? Yes. All watercraft, unless specifically exempted, must be registered with the Minnesota Registry of Motor Vehicles and display a decal and license number. Registrations are good for three calendar years.
Minnesota Vessel Titling: “Certain watercraft over 16 feet are required to be titled in Minnesota” Canoes and Kayaks do not have to be titled. There are many other exceptions to this, as explained by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources page – Titling and registration links
Related Article: Paddle Board Registration
MN Kayaking Operator Education Laws
Do you need a license to kayak in Minnesota? You do not need a license to operate a kayak or canoe 10 ft or less in Minnesota. Kayaks and canoes with no attached motor that are 10 ft or less do not require operator licensing or education.
Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in Minnesota? Adult operators only require the boating license from the specific watercraft to operate motorized vehicles.
Children less than 13 years of age may not operate a motorized watercraft. Children 13 years of age must either have someone at least 21 years old on board, or a Watercraft Operator’s Permit and be under visual supervision by someone at least 21 years old. Operators 14 to 17 years of age must have either have someone at least 21 years of age onboard, or a Watercraft Operator’s Permit.
Operators 12 to 17 years of age operating vehicles with over 25 horsepower must either have a Watercraft Operator’s Permit, or someone at least 21 years of age within reach of the controls.
Minnesota Kayaking OUI Laws
Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Minnesota? Yes you can get a DUI on a kayak in Minnesota. In Minnesota, it’s against the law to operate a motorized vessel while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or other harmful substances. You can get the equivalent of a DUI, a BWI (Boating While Impaired) in Minnesota with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08%. The offense automatically becomes a gross misdemeanor if it’s above 0.16%.
Related Article: Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak?
Minnesota Kayak Life Jacket Laws
Do you need a life jacket to kayak in Minnesota? 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 10 years of age, when not below top deck or anchored, must wear a Type I, II, III, or V PFD.
Minnesota PFD Details:
- All vessels must be equipped with a Type I, II, III, or V PFD for each person on board or being towed.
- All vessels have at least one Type I, II, III, or V PFD that is USCG–approved, wearable, and of the proper size for each person on board. Type V PFDs must be noted to be equivalent to an approved device of another type (e.g. I, II, or III)
PFD Age Laws
What age do you have to wear a life jacket in Minnesota? Life jackets must be worn by all youth under 10 when they are in the top deck area of a boat. Exceptions are children onboard a vessel being guided by a licensed captain, or while the boat is anchored for the purpose of swimming or diving.
Type IV Throwable PFD
Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in Minnesota? No. Kayaks and Canoes are exempt from Minnesota’s law that all 16 foot and longer vessels must have a USCG-approved Type IV onboard.
Related Article: Kayak Life Jacket Laws by State (50 State List)
MN 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 40 feet long must have red and green sidelights visible either from 112.5 degrees for each light, or a combination 225 degree red and green bow light. An all-round white light is also necessary.
While anchored, only the white light is necessary.
Unpowered vessels must carry a white lantern or flashlight that can be seen at least two miles away on the horizon. The light must be displayed in sufficient time to avoid a collision with other watercraft. This applies to kayakers and canoeists on unpowered vessels.
Minnesota Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws
Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Minnesota? Kayaks and canoes do not need to carry a sounding device in Minnesota. However, motorized vessels between 16 to 26 feet must be equipped with a hand, mouth, or power-operated whistle or horn.
The sounding device must be capable of producing a continuous sound for two seconds that is 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.
Here’s what we consider to be the best whistle for kayaking.
VDS – Visual Distress Signaling Devices
Lake Superior is the only body of water that requires USCG approved Visual Distress Signals (VDS).
Between sunset and sunrise all vessels have to have night VSD on board. Kayaks and canoes must carry electric distress lights or 3 pyrotechnic devices.
Motorized vessels, your kayak or canoe with a trolling motor, that are over 16 feet must carry three daytime VSD signalling devices.
MN Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws
Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Minnesota? No. Even if you have a trolling motor on your kayak, if the fuel tank isn’t permanently installed or in an enclosure, 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 Minnesota Kayaking Laws Resources
Boating Law Enforcement
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers and sheriffs enforce Minnesota’s boat and water safety laws.
And USCG officers enforce federally controlled waters like Lake Superior in Minnesota.