New Jersey Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regulations)

NJ Kayaking Laws - Rules and regulations

The New Jersey Marine Services Bureau governs New Jersey kayak laws, and the New Jersey State Police enforce those kayaking rules and regulations.

New Jersey borders the Atlantic Ocean on three sides and is crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers and waterways across the state. Whether you intend to take your kayak onto the open ocean or out on one of the many rivers in the state, you should know the laws that apply to kayaking.

Here is a summary of what you need to know about New Jersey kayak laws.

Legal Disclaimer: This article was written for informational purposes only. I am not an attorney and am not giving legal advice. If you have specific questions about your state’s laws, you should consult a local attorney.

NJ Kayaking Laws Summary

  • New Jersey Kayaking Laws – New Jersey law considers kayaks and canoes to be non-motorized vessels.
  • New Jersey Kayak Registration – Non-motorized kayaks and canoes not used for commercial purposes are exempt from registration.
  • New Jersey Motorized Kayak Registration – All motorized watercraft must be registered with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, and the user must complete a New Jersey Boat Safety Certificate. This includes a trolling motor on a canoe or kayak.
  • Kayak Operator Licensing in New Jersey – Non-motorized kayaks may be used without a special license or registration. All boaters using a motorized kayak must have a motorboat license.
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – Anyone using a motorized kayak must have a motorboat license, obtainable from a motor vehicle agency. Applicants under the age of 17 must have a letter of parental or guardian consent to get a license. (See below for further restrictions)
  • Kayaking BUI Law – New Jersey has a Boating Under the Influence (BUI) lawOpens in a new tab.. In NJ, a BUI charge may result in fines, boating license suspension, or driver’s license suspension. A person is operating illegally when their blood alcohol content is .08% or above, or they are otherwise impaired by mind-altering drugs.
  • Kayaking Life Jacket LawAll vessels must be equippedOpens in a new tab. with a Type I, II, III, or V PFD for each person on board. (See below for kayak and canoe specifics)
  • Kayak Lights Law – All boats must have running lights if used between sunset and sunrise or in periods of restricted visibility.
  • Kayaking Sounding Devices – All vessels under 16 feet in length, including kayaks, must have an efficient sound signal but are not specifically required to have a whistle or bell.
  • Kayaking VDS LawAll vessels are required to carry night signaling devicesOpens in a new tab.. 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 Jersey 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 NJ.

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New Jersey Kayak Registration


Do you have to register a kayak in New Jersey? No. “Non-motorized inflatable devices, surfboards, racing shells, dinghies, canoes and kayaks” do not have to be registered. – New Jersey Motor Vehicle CommissionOpens in a new tab.


Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in New Jersey? Yes. All motorized watercraft, unless specifically exempted, must be registered with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle. New Jersey watercraft registration must be renewed annually.


New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission: “In order to use New Jersey waterways, all boats must be titled and registered except: […] Non-motorized inflatable devices, surfboards, racing shells, dinghies, canoes, and kayaks.”

A kayak with a trolling motor is not exempted from titling and registration.

Registration Resources

NJ Kayaking Operator Education Laws


Do you need a license to kayak in New Jersey? You do not need a license to operate a kayak or canoe in New Jersey. 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 New Jersey? Anyone operating a motorboat, including a motorized kayak, must have a license. Youth under 17 must have a letter of parental or guardian consent to obtain a license and may only operate motorized vessels with motors less than 10 hp.


Youth under 13 cannot operate a motorized vessel under any circumstances.

New Jersey Kayaking BUI Laws

Can you get a BUI on a kayak in New Jersey? Yes, you can get a BUI on a kayak in New Jersey. In New Jersey, 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 BUI (Boating Under the Influence) in New Jersey with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08%. You can also get a BUI if you are found to be under the influence of narcotics, hallucinogens, or other mind-altering substances.  

Additionally, most national parks in New Jersey prohibit alcohol consumption.

Related Article: Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak?

New Jersey Kayak Life Jacket Laws

Do you need a life jacket to kayak in New Jersey? Yes. All vessels must have one Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device of Type I, II, III, or V for each person on board. All persons under 12 years of age, when in the open deck area, must wear a Type I, II, or III PFD.

New Jersey PFD Details:

  • All vessels must be equipped with a Type I, II, III, or V PFD for each person on board or 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.

PFD Age Laws

What age do you have to wear a life jacket in New Jersey? Life jackets must be worn by all youth under 12 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 New Jersey? Only vessels 16 feet and longer must have a USCG–approved Type IV throwable flotation device on board.

New Jersey Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night? “A recreational powerboat underway is required to display a masthead light forward, red and green sidelights and stern light; a recreational powerboat under 39.4′ (12 meters) may instead display a 360 all-round white and combination red and green sidelights.” New Jersey State Police Marine ServicesOpens in a new tab.

New Jersey Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a whistle on a kayak in New Jersey? Kayaks and canoes do not need to carry a whistle or bell in New Jersey, but they must have an efficient method for creating a sound signal.

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.

VDS – Visual Distress Signaling Devices

New Jersey 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 Jersey Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in New Jersey? No. Even if you have a trolling motor on your kayak, a fire extinguisher is not required if the vessel is less than 26 feet in length.

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 NJ Kayaking Laws Resources

Steve W

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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