North Dakota Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regulations)

North Dakota Kayaking Laws - Rules and Regulations

North Dakota kayak laws are set and governed by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. This department sets and enforces laws regarding the conservation of fish, game, and wildlife, as well as watercraft regulations and registrations. 

The department has five different divisions and several North Dakota locations, including Bismarck, Jamestown, Harvey, and Riverdale, just to name a few. 

There are several different rivers and lakes from the Sheyenne River to Lake Sakakawea to choose from for kayaking in North Dakota. According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, there are more than 150 different water types for fishing and paddling. 

Here’s a summary of what you need to know about North Dakota 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.

North Dakota Kayak Laws Summary

  • North Dakota Kayaking Laws – North Dakota law considers kayaks and canoes to be non-motorized vessels.
  • North Dakota Kayak Registration – If kayaks and canoes do not have any type of motor, they do not need to be registered. If they do have a motor, such as a trolling motor, registration is required
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – Motorized boats, including kayaks and canoes, need to be registered. Vessel registration can be done online with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. 
  • Kayak Operator Licensing in North Dakota  – For motorized vessels, anyone 16-years-old and older does not need an operator license. You just need to make sure the motorized vessel is registered, and the registration certificate is available while you’re operating it. 
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – When it comes to motorized vessels, an adult who is at least 18-years-old must accompany children between the ages of 12-15. If the vessel goes faster than 10 HP, the child must also take a safety course. 
  • Kayaking BUI Law – North Dakota has a Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law. A person is operating their kayak illegally when their blood alcohol content is .10% or above. 
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – It is mandatory that children under the age of 10 wear a life jacket while in vessels that are less than 27 feet in length. 
  • Kayak Lights Law – Non-powered kayaks must be ready to use a white light between sunset and sunrise to avoid a possible collision.
  • Kayaking Sounding Devices – In North Dakota, vessels that are less than 16 feet in length are not required to have a whistle or bell. 
  • Kayaking VDS (Visual Distress Signal) Law – Non-motorized kayaks are not required to have distress signals during the day, but must have them at night. On federally controlled waters, all types of vessels are required to carry U.S. Coast Guard-approved night VDS devices.

That only summarizes North Dakota 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 North Dakota.

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North Dakota Kayak Registration


Do you have to register a kayak in North Dakota? No. Every motorboat, principally used in North Dakota, that is powered by any motor (including electric motors) must be registered with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.” –North Dakota Game and Fish Department


Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in North Dakota? Yes, any vessel that can be propelled in water must be registered. Registrations can be done online, and the owner will receive a certificate in the mail that must be with the vessel when it’s in use. 


North Dakota Vessel Titling: North Dakota does not issue titles for watercraft, only registrations.  

Registration Resources

North Dakota Game and Fish Department website –Watercraft Registration 

North Dakota Kayaking Operator Education Laws


Do you need a license to kayak in North Dakota? No, you do not need a license to kayak in North Dakota. 


Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in North Dakota? 

No, you still do not need a license to operate a motorized kayak or any other motorized vessel in North Dakota. 


A person must be at least 12-years-old and accompanied by an adult of at least 18-years-of-age to operate a motorized vessel that can be propelled more than 10 hp. Additionally, anyone between the ages of 12-15 must have passed a boating safety course. 

North Dakota Kayaking BUI Laws

Can you get a BUI on a kayak in North Dakota? North Dakota defines a vessel as “any watercraft, other than a seaplane on the water, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.” So this also means kayaks and canoes without motors. 

If you operate any vessel and have a blood alcohol content of 0.10%, then yes, you can get a BUI in North Dakota. 

A BUI is considered a class B misdemeanor in North Dakota. As a result, a person could spend up to 30 days in jail and/or receive a fine of up to $1,500. 

Additionally, if a chemical test also shows the presence of drugs in the watercraft operator’s system, the Fish and Game Department will suspend boating privileges. 

There is no threshold for blood alcohol content for minors. 

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

North Dakota Kayak Life Jacket Laws

Do you need a life jacket to kayak in North Dakota? It is mandatory that children younger than 10-years-old wear a life jacket when they are in vessels that are less than 27 feet in length. They must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved type I, II, or III life jacket. 

For all non-motorized vessels, there must be Coast Guard approved I, II, or III personal floatation devices onboard for each person.  

North Dakota PFD (Personal Flotation Device) Details:

  • For vessels between 16-26 feet in length, there must be at least one Coast Guard approved PFD for each person on board, plus one type IV throwable PFD.

PFD Age Laws

What age do you have to wear a life jacket in North Dakota? Life jackets must be worn by children under the age of 10 when they are on vessels that are up to 27 feet in length.

Type IV Throwable PFD

Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in North Dakota? No, non-motorized canoes and kayaks do not need to carry a throwable PFD. 

Related ArticleKayak Life Jacket Laws by State (50 State List)

North Dakota Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night? Non-motorized vessels, such as kayaks, must have an easily accessible white light that can be used to avoid any type of collision. 

Additionally, a white light must be easily accessible and ready to display while the kayak is anchored between sunset and sunrise and to signal any incoming boats from any direction. 

Motorized vessels require a different set of lighting depending on the length and power of the vessel. 

Motorized vessels less than 26 feet need to have a combination of red and green lights at the bow, the left side being red and the right green, and a 360 degree white light at the stern visible for two miles. 

North Dakota Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a whistle on a kayak in North Dakota? No, whistles and bells are not required on vessels less than 16 feet in North Dakota. 

If the vessel is between 16 and 26 feet, you are required to have a whistle that can be operated with one hand and a mouth, and that can be heard up to half a mile away. 

There are a variety of whistles that come in different shapes and sizes that easily attach to life jackets. It’s highly recommended that you select a whistle that is Coast Guard approved. 

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

VDS – Visual Distress Signaling Devices

Visual distress signals are how you’re able to signal for help during an emergency. 

All vessels, including non-motorized kayaks, are required to have visual distress signals at night. “Night” is defined as between sunset and sunrise.

Night Signals

There are Coast Guard approved pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic distress signals. Visual distress signals can be pyrotechnic, like smoke and flames, or non-pyrotechnic, which are non-combustible. 

Day Signals

All motorized vessels are required to carry visual distress signals during the day. 

The only exceptions are vessels less than 16 feet in length. Having Coast Guard approved day signals is important because that means they can be seen in bright daylight. 

North Dakota Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in North Dakota? No. Only power-driven vessels less than 26 feet in length and have closed compartments or a permanent fuel tank are required to carry a type B fire extinguisher. 

Additional North Dakota Kayaking Laws Resources

North Dakota  Boating Under the Influence Law

Boating Law Enforcement

Game wardens and law enforcement officers are able to pull over paddlers and boaters if they suspect you are boating under the influence. They can administer tests to determine if the operator has been drinking and/or is under the influence of drugs. 

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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