New Mexico Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regul)

New Mexico Kayaking Laws - Rules and Regulations

New Mexico kayak laws are set and governed by the New Mexico State Boating Program. The New Mexico State Parks administer and enforce the kayaking rules and regulations.

New Mexico is home to several large lakes, including Abiquiu Reservoir, Elephant Butte Reservoir, and Conchas Lake. The Rio Grande River stretches across the state from north to south, and New Mexico contains many other rivers and waterways to explore from a kayak.

Here is a summary of what you need to know about New Mexico 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 Mexico Kayak Laws Summary

  • New Mexico Kayaking Laws – New Mexico law considers kayaks and canoes to be non-motorized vessels.
  • New Mexico Kayak Registration – Non-motorized kayaks and canoes are exempt from registration.
  • New Mexico Motorized Kayak Registration – All motorized watercraft 10 feet or longer, including kayaks or canoes with motors, must be registered with the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division.
  • Kayak Operator Licensing in New Mexico – Boaters born after January 1, 1989, must carry proof of boater education. This applies regardless of the type and size of the vessel.
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – Anyone under the age of 13 using a kayak or canoe, motorized or not, must be under direct supervision by an adult. (See below for further restrictions)
  • Kayaking BWI Law – New Mexico has a Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) law. In New Mexico, a BWI charge may result in fines or jail time. Convicted boaters may be required to take a boating safety course. A person is operating illegally when their blood alcohol content is .08% or above or if they are impaired by drugs. Additionally, if the violator has a blood alcohol content over .16%, injures someone, or refuses to take a chemical test, they may be charged with aggravated BWI, which carries much steeper penalties.
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – Every person aboard a kayak or canoe must always be wearing a personal flotation device (PFC). (See below for kayak and canoe specifics)
  • Kayak Lights Law – All boats must have navigation lights if used between sunset and sunrise.
  • Kayaking Sounding Devices – All vessels under 26 feet in length, including kayaks, must carry a hand-powered, mouth-powered, or power-operated whistle or another device capable of producing a sound that can be heard at least one mile away.
  • 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 New Mexico 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 New Mexico.

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New Mexico Kayak Registration


Do you have to register a kayak in New Mexico? No. Non-motorized vessels are exempt from registration.


Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in New Mexico? Yes. “All motorized vessels of any length must be registered… The vessel registration number must be affixed permanently to both sides of the vessel’s bow with block letters that measure 3 inches in height and are clearly visible. A valid registration decal must be placed on the port side 6 inches behind (aft) the registration number.” New Mexico Game and Fish


From the New Mexico Game and Fish site: “All motorized and sail-powered vessels 10 feet or longer in length require a title.” Title and registration may be obtained through the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division website, by calling 888-MVD-INFO, or in person at a New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division office. 

Registration Resources

New Mexico Kayaking Operator Education Laws


Do you need a license to kayak in New Mexico? Yes. All operators of any water vessel must carry proof of boater education whenever they are on the water. This applies to kayaks and canoes as well. An exception is made for boaters born before January 1, 1989.


Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in New Mexico? The same proof of boater education that applies to non-motorized kayaks also applies to motorized kayaks.


Everyone must have proof of boater education when operating any kayak, sailboat, motorboat, or other vessels. Additionally, if the operator is under the age of 13, they must be directly supervised by an adult.

New Mexico Kayaking BWI Laws

Can you get a violation for Boating While Intoxicated on a kayak in New Mexico? Yes, you can get a BWI on a kayak in New Mexico. In New Mexico, it is against the law to operate a vessel of any kind while impaired by alcohol or drugs. You can get the equivalent of a DUI, a BWI (Boating While Intoxicated) in New Mexico with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08%. You can also get a BWI if you are found to be under the influence of narcotics, hallucinogens, or other mind-altering substances. 

If you are found to have a BAC greater than .16%, if you injure someone, or if you refuse a chemical test, you may also be charged with aggravated BWI.

If convicted of a BWI, you could face fines of $500, 90 days of jail, and be required to take a boat safety class. A second offense could earn you up to 364 days in jail and fines of $750. If convicted of aggravated BWI, fines could go up to $1,250 for a first offense or $1,750 for a second offense.

New Mexico Kayak Life Jacket Laws

Do you need a life jacket to kayak in New Mexico? Yes. Anyone on a kayak or canoe must wear a personal flotation device the entire time they are in the vessel.

New Mexico PFD Details:

  • Every person in a kayak or canoe must have a personal flotation device. The PFD must be a USCG-approved flotation device of Type I, II, III, or V.

PFD Age Laws

What age do you have to wear a life jacket in New Mexico? If you are in a kayak or canoe, a personal flotation device is required at all times regardless of age.

Type IV Throwable PFD

Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in New Mexico? Kayaks do not have to have a USCG–approved Type IV throwable flotation device on board.

New Mexico Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night? “When underway and not underway on New Mexico state waters, unpowered vessels are required to have on hand at least one lantern or flashlight shining a white light, which must be exhibited in time to prevent collision. [The] light must be visible in all directions whenever they are underway or moored or anchored outside a designated mooring area between one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise.”New Mexico State Police Marine Services

New Mexico Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a whistle on a kayak in New Mexico? Operators of kayaks or canoes must have a sound-producing device such as a whistle or horn.

The best “sounding” device for kayakers and canoeists is a whistle attached to your PFD in a place that is quick and easy to deploy.

Here’s what we consider to be the best whistle for kayaking.

VDS – Visual Distress Signaling Devices

New Mexico requires all vessels operating at night to carry Visual Distress Signals (VDS).

Night Signals

Between sunset and sunrise, all vessels must have a VDS on board. These can include hand-held pyrotechnic flares, smoke flares, or parachute flares.

Day Signals

Motorized vessels, including kayaks or canoes with trolling motors over 16 feet, must carry daytime VSD signaling devices.

New Mexico Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in New Mexico? Yes. If your kayak has a motor that uses gasoline, you must have a USCG-approved 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 are far from the shore.

Additional New Mexico Kayaking Laws Resources

Boating laws in New Mexico are enforced by officials from the New Mexico State Parks Division.

Boating Safety 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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