Montana kayak laws are set and governed by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and authorized officers of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks enforce those kayaking rules and regulations.
Montana is home to Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. In addition to this massive waterway, there are plenty of other lakes, rivers, and ponds spread throughout the state. With so much shoreline, it’s not surprising that Montana is popular for boating, kayaking, and other water vessel activities.
Here’s a summary of what you need to know about Montana 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.
Montana Kayak Laws Summary
- Montana Kayak Laws – Montana law considers kayaks and canoes to be vessels.
- Montana Kayak Registration – Non-motorized vessels are exempt from registration in Montana.
- Motorized Kayak Registration – All motorboats must be registered and numbered. This includes a trolling motor on a canoe or kayak.
- Kayak Operator Licensing in Montana – No license is required to operate a kayak in Montana.
- Motorized Kayaking Age – Children 12 years or younger may not operate a motorboat or personal watercraft rated at more than 10 horsepower unless accompanied by someone 18 years of age or older. 13 and 14 year old youth must possess a valid Montana motorboat operator’s safety certificate or be accompanied by someone 18 years of age or older.
- Kayaking BUI Law – Montana has a Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) law. In Montana, a BUI charge is a class B misdemeanor offense with the ability to become up to a class B felony. A person is operating illegally when they operate a vessel while in an intoxicated condition. (see below for further details)
- Kayaking Life Jacket Law – All vessels must be equipped with a USCG-approved Type I, II, or III wearable 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 can be visible from all directions.
- Kayaking Sounding Devices – Kayaks do not require a sounding device on board, although Montana advises that all vessels carry a whistle or horn for use during periods of reduced visibility. (see below for additional regulations)
- Kayaking VDS Law – All federal waterways in Montana require USCG approved Visual Distress Signals (VDS).
That only summarizes Montana 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 Montana.
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Montana Kayak Registration
Do you have to register a kayak in Montana? No. Non-motorized vessels are exempt from registration and titling requirements in Montana. – Montana Boating Laws Handbook
Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Montana? Yes. All motorboats must be registered and numbered and display a decal. Registration decals do not expire. Green decals, the current validation decals, are valid from March 1st, 2020 through February 28th, 2023.
Montana Vessel Titling: “Boat owners must obtain a certificate of ownership (title) and certificate of number (registration) and pay all fees to the County Treasurer in the county where the owner resides.” Canoes and Kayaks do not have to be titled unless a trolling motor will be attached to them, at which point they are considered motorboats.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Boat Registration page – Titling and registration links
Related Article: Paddle Board Registration
Montana Kayaking Operator Education Laws
Do you need a license to kayak in Montana? No. A license or certificate is not needed for adults to operate any water vessels in Montana.
Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in Montana? No. Only children ages 13 and 14 require a license to operate a motor vessel in Montana.
Children 12 years or younger may not operate a motorboat or personal watercraft rated at more than 10 horsepower unless accompanied by someone 18 years of age or older. 13 and 14 year olds must possess a valid Montana motorboat operator’s safety certificate or be accompanied by someone 18 years of age or older.
Montana Kayaking BWI Laws
Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Montana? Yes, you can get a DUI on a kayak in Montana. In Montana, it’s against the law to operate any vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You can get a DUI in Montana with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08%. – Montana Boating While Intoxicated Statute
Related Article: Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak?
Montana Kayak Life Jacket Laws
Do you need a life jacket to kayak in Montana? Yes. All vessels must have one wearable PFD for each person on board. Children under the age of 12 must wear a USCG-approved PFD on all boats that are less than 26 feet in length.
Montana PFD Details:
- All vessels less than 16 feet long must be equipped with a wearable PFD for each person on board or being towed.
- All vessels have at least one Type I, II, or III PFD that is wearable, in good and serviceable condition, and of the proper size for each person on board.
PFD Age Laws
What age do you have to wear a life jacket in Montana? Children under 12 years of age are required to wear a life jacket at all times when aboard a vessel that is in motion.
Type IV Throwable PFD
Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in Montana? No. Only vessels 16 feet or longer in length are required to have a Type IV throwable on board.
Related Article: Kayak Life Jacket Laws by State (50 State List)
Montana Kayaking Lights Laws
What lights do I need on my kayak at night? Powered Vessels (kayaks and/or canoes with a trolling motor) require red and green sidelights visible from at least one mile away, as well as an all-round white light visible from at least two miles away.
While anchored or moored, only the all-round white light is necessary.
Unpowered vessels must carry a white lantern or flashlight that can be displayed when necessary. If practical, they should also display red and green sidelights and a sternlight.
Montana Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws
Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Montana? No. Only motorboats that are at least 16 feet long are required to have a sounding device on board. However, Montana advises that all vessels carry a whistle or horn for use during periods of reduced visibility.
The sounding device should be capable of producing a continuous sound 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
Any federally owned body of water in Montana requires Visual Distress Signaling Devices.
On federal waters, 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.
On federal waters, motorized vessels, such as a kayak or canoe with a trolling motor, that are over 16 feet must carry three daytime VSD signalling devices.
Montana Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws
Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Montana? Possibly. If your trolling motor is not completely open construction (no closed spaces where gasoline fumes may be trapped), you must have a B-I fire extinguisher. Most trolling motors and fuel systems are open construction.
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 being far from shore with a fire on a boat and no way to put it out.
Additional Montana Kayaking Laws Resources
Boating Law Enforcement
Authorized officers of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks enforce Montana’s boat and water safety laws.
USCG officers enforce federally controlled waters.