New Hampshire is a state known for maple syrup, foliage, and incredibly scenic views. One of the most popular ways to explore NH is by kayaking its many waterways.
However, if you’re new to kayaking in New Hampshire, you’ll want familiarize yourself with the NH kayaking laws.
Kayaking laws vary by state, so here’s a summary of what you need to know about New Hampshire 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.
New Hampshire Kayak Laws Summary
- New Hampshire Kayaking Laws – Kayaks and canoes are considered non-motorized vehicles under NH law.
- New Hampshire Kayak Registration – Non-motorized kayaks used for personal recreation, not commercial purposes, do not have to register.
- Motorized Kayak Registration – Motorized kayaks, including a trolling motor on a canoe or kayak, are must register vessels the New Hampshire Department of Safety, Division of Motor Vehicles display a registration decal.
- Motorized Kayak Operator Licensing in New Hampshire – Boaters 16 years of age and older have to have a boaters’ education card on the vessel in New Hampshire.
- Motorized Kayaking Age – Anyone less than 16 years of age must have an adult on board while operating a motorized kayak.
- Kayaking BUI Law – In New Hampshire, Boating Under the Influence, or BUI, is a Class B misdemeanor. A blood alcohol content of .08% or over is considered intoxicated, and therefore illegal. (see below for under 21 restrictions)
- Kayaking Life Jacket Law – Type I, II, or III personal flotation devices, or PFDs, are required on all vessels. (see below for kayak and canoe specifics)
- Kayak Lights Law – Non-motorized vessels less than 26 feet in length, including kayaks, are required to have a white light on while in motion.
- Kayaking Sounding Devices – Kayaks and canoes are required to have a sounding device on board, in case of emergency.
- Kayaking VDS Law – All motorized vessels are required to have a VDS on board.
The above is just a summary of NH boating laws for kayaks and canoes. Of course, there’s more to each one than the brief descriptions above. Keep reading for more on New Hampshire’s laws for legal paddling.
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New Hampshire Kayak Registration
Do you have to register a kayak in New Hampshire? No. Non-motorized vessels, including kayaks and canoes, do not need to be registered in NH.
Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in New Hampshire? Yes. Vessels are required to register at 12 feet or longer. Registration for motorized vessels is available at
- Town halls
- Most marinas
- Department of Motor Vehicles
Registered boats are given a decal to display on the boat and a certificate that must be kept on board at all times. Bow numbers are also assigned at registration.
New Hampshire Kayaking Operator Education Laws
Do you need a license to kayak in New Hampshire? You do not need a license to kayak or canoe in NH, as long as it is a non-motorized canoe or kayak.
Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in New Hampshire? Yes. Anyone 16 and older must have a boater education card to operate a motorized kayak or canoe legally.
Youth 16 and under cannot operate a motorized kayak or canoe without an adult on board. Youth over 16 must take a boaters’ education class and carry their boaters’ education card while operating a motorized kayak or canoe.
New Hampshire Kayaking OUI Laws
Can you get a DUI on a kayak in New Hampshire? Yes. NH law states that it is illegal to operate a vessel with a blood-alcohol level of .08% or higher. This applies to only drivers over 21 years of age. Anyone under 21 cannot have a BAC of .02% or more.
New Hampshire Kayak Life Jacket Laws
Do you need a life jacket to kayak in New Hampshire? New Hampshire law requires all vessels, including kayaks and canoes, to have a Type I, II, or III PFD for each person on board.
What age do you have to wear a life vest in New Hampshire? Any person under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket while onboard any vessel in NH.
Related Article: Kayak Life Jacket Laws by State (50 State List)
New Hampshire Kayaking Lights Laws
What lights do I need on my kayak at night? If your kayak is less than 26 feet long and non-motorized, you will need a white light on at all times while the vessel is in motion, day or night.
Vessels longer than 26 feet are required to have running lights mounted on the sides and a white light on the front.
New Hampshire Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws
Do I need a whistle on a kayak in New Hampshire? Kayaks and canoes do not need to carry a sounding device in New Hampshire. Even though it’s not required, it’s still a very important safety device.
Motorized vessels of any length are required to have a hand, mouth, or power whistle sounding device on board.
Here’s what we consider to be the best whistle for kayaking.
New Hampshire VDS Laws
Do I need a VDS onboard my kayak or canoe in New Hampshire? Kayaks and canoes under 16 feet are not required to have a VDS on board during the day. All other vessels must have day signals. All vessels are required to have night signals when operating between sunset and sunrise.
Boating Law Enforcement in New Hampshire
New Hampshire boating laws are enforced mainly by the New Hampshire Department of Safety, Division of Police. The Marine Patrol Unit patrols New Hampshire’s waters. However, NH’s coastal waters are regulated by the United States Coast Guard.
Other Laws to Consider When Paddling in New Hampshire
New Hampshire’s state motto is “Live Free or Die,” and the laws are stiff when it comes to protecting the land and wildlife. Rightfully so, given that New Hampshire is known for its pristine landscape and wild animal population.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re paddling in New Hampshire that might be different than other places you’ve kayaked or canoed.
- Out of State Plants/Invasive Species – New Hampshire is focused on preserving natural areas and native wildlife. Due to this reason, the state asks you to be sure your kayak is appropriately cleaned off if it is coming from another state.
If you have any plants stuck to your kayak, this could lead to an invasive species not native to New England taking over the water. The best way to avoid this is to clean your kayak. Cleaning your entire vessel is important, including the live well, if you have one.
- Littering and dumping – If you get caught littering or dumping in New Hampshire, big fines will result. This will result in a minimum of a 2,000 dollar fine and, in some cases, up to one year in jail.
- No Hunting – This applies to motorized kayaks and canoes. Many people hunt from boats in other parts of the country, but this is not allowed in NH. This law is for the safety of you and others.
- Firearms – Unless you are permitted to carry, you will not be able to carry a loaded firearm in the boat.
- Harassment – This does not mean other people. This law is created for those who think it is funny to harass wildlife. If you get caught picking on birds, animals, or anything else, you will get fined. You will lose your fishing or boating license, and you will get fined a minimum of 1,000 dollars.
- Scuba Flags – Some of New Hampshire’s waters are prime for scuba diving. This is different than many places where you might kayak or canoe.
Although a red flag with a white stripe is the most commonly used flag to indicate scuba divers’ presence, any flag in the water should be treated as an indicator that there are divers below. Boaters must clear these flags by at least 150 feet.
- Fishing- Fishing from a kayak or canoe is common in New Hampshire. Make sure to obtain a fishing permit before fishing. The permits are different for fishing in NH’s coastal waters, and extra fees apply.