Pennsylvania Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regulations)

PA Kayaking Laws - Rules and Regulations

The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission governs PA kayaking laws that you must follow to keep everyone on the water safe.  

And it’s a good thing, because on beautiful summer days, you can’t help but want to get out on the water and enjoy some fresh air and kayaking on Pennsylvania’s vast 85,000 miles worth of rivers and streams.

Pennsylvania is on the border of Lake Erie, which stretches for over 9,000 miles. Pennsylvania is also home to part of the Delaware River, with 56 of these miles inside its state lines. These are two exceptionally large bodies of water, and both are perfect for kayaking!

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.

Pennsylvania Kayak Laws Summary

  • Pennsylvania Kayaking Laws – Pennsylvania law states that kayaks and canoes are non-motorized water vehicles.
  • Pennsylvania Kayak Registration – Personally owned kayaks and canoes must be properly registered in the state of Pennsylvania and display proof of registration at all times. 
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – All motorized canoes and kayaks must be properly registered in the state of Pennsylvania. Each vehicle must display proof of registration.
  • Kayak Operator Licensing in Pennsylvania – Kayak operators who will be kayaking for more than 60 days in Pennsylvania during the “on-season” must obtain the proper boating license to operate such water vehicles legally.
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – Anyone 15 years old and younger is not allowed to operate a motorized vehicle in the water if other members aboard are under the age of 12.
  • Kayaking BUI Law – In Pennsylvania, Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is taken very seriously. It can result in up to 6 months in jail and up to 6 months of probation on the water for the first offense. 
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – All kayakers through November 1 and April 30 must always wear a life jacket. Children under the age of 12 are required to wear a life jacket year-round at all times in Pennsylvania.
  • Kayak Lights Law – Unpowered kayaks are required by law in Pennsylvania to carry a white light, like a flashlight or a lantern, for safety. 
  • Kayaking Sounding Devices – In Pennsylvania, watercraft that are longer than 65 feet in length must carry sounding devices. Because kayaks are often between 9 and 25 feet in length, this rule does not apply to kayakers.
  • Kayaking VDS Law – Pennsylvania does not require manually powered water vehicles to carry sound- or light-operated signaling. On federally controlled waters, all vessels are required to carry U.S. Coast Guard-approved night VDS devices.

That’s a brief overview of the Pennsylvania kayaking laws pertaining to manually powered water vehicles. Keep reading to learn more details about the rules and regulations for kayaking in Pennsylvania.

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Pennsylvania Kayak Registration


Do you have to register a kayak in Pennsylvania? You do not have to register non-motorized water vehicles in the state of Pennsylvania that are used for personal reasons. However, if a kayak is being operated commercially or used by a business to gain profit, it must be registered.   


Do you have to register kayak with a trolling motor in Pennsylvania? Yes, in Pennsylvania, you must register all motorized kayaks and properly display proof of registration on your kayak between the dates of November 1 and April 30 each year. 

This includes:

  • Any boat powered by gasoline, diesel, or electric motors
  • Vessels documented by the U.S. Coast Guard for recreational purposes
  • Boats such as sailboats that use gasoline, diesel, or electric motors for auxiliary power


Pennsylvania Vessel Titling: Any boat purchased, transferred, or sold, must be titled if the boat is:

  • Powered by an inboard motor, including personal watercraft, 1997 model year or newer
  • Powered by an outboard motor, 14 feet or longer, 1997 model year or newer
  • Currently titled in Pennsylvania
  • Titled in another state when Pennsylvania becomes the state of primary use

Once a boat has been titled, it must remain that way by all future owners.

Registration Resources

Pennsylvania Kayaking Operator Education Laws


Do you need a license to kayak in Pennsylvania? No. Water vehicles that are not motorized do not require a license in Pennsylvania. 


Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in Pennsylvania? Yes, you must hold a license to use a motorized water vehicle in Pennsylvania legally. Children under the age of 15 are not allowed to operate motorized water vehicles. You must be at least 16 years of age to obtain a water vehicle license in Pennsylvania.


Under no circumstances can a child under the age of 12 drive or operate a motorized water vehicle, including a motorized kayak. 

Pennsylvania Kayaking OUI Laws

Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Pennsylvania? It is illegal to operate a water vehicle of any kind in Pennsylvania while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. With a blood alcohol concentration of between .08 and .1, you can spend up to 6 months in jail for your first offense. After the second and third offenses, you can lose your boating license permanently.

Pennsylvania Kayak Life Jacket Laws

Do you need a life jacket to kayak in Pennsylvania? Yes. All kayakers through the dates of November 1 and April 30 must wear a life jacket. Children under the age of 12 are always required to wear a life jacket while inside a watercraft in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania PFD Details:

  • A throwable device is not allowed to be used in place of a wearable life jacket.
  • The Coast Guard must formally approve all life jackets.
  • Each life jacket must fit each user appropriately. Make sure you have enough jackets of the right size for each member of your group.

PFD Age Laws

At what age do you have to wear a life jacket in Pennsylvania? Compulsory PFD Requirements for Pennsylvania children 12 years and under should wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket when on board a vessel that is underway. No places and situations are exempt from PFDs. 

Type IV Throwable PFD

Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in Pennsylvania? In Pennsylvania, both motorized and non-motorized kayaks greater than 16 feet in length must carry a throwable flotation device.

Pennsylvania Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night? You’ll need a light on your kayak at night if you’re kayaking on open waters regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard and if your vehicle is motorized. You are not required by law to have a light if you are in state waters and if your vehicle is not motorized. 

Pennsylvania Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Pennsylvania? In Pennsylvania, watercraft that are longer than 65 feet in length must carry sounding devices on them. Because kayaks are often between 9 and 25 feet in length, this rule does not apply to kayakers.

The best noise-making device for kayakers is a whistle attached to your PFD in a place that is quick and easy to grab. 

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

VDS – Visual Distress Signaling Devices

Kayakers with non-motorized vehicles are required to have some a Visual Distress Signaling Device for nighttime use. 

During daytime hours, the following boats are not required to carry visual distress signals:

  • Boats less than 16 feet in length
  • Boats participating in organized events
  • Open sailboats that are less than 26 feet in length and not equipped with an engine
  • Manually propelled boats

Night Signals

In Pennsylvania, non-motorized kayakers must carry electric distress lights or three red flares between sunset and sunrise.

Day Signals

Non-motorized water vehicles do not need to carry VDS with them during the daytime. 

Pennsylvania Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Pennsylvania? Yes. One USCG-approved B-1 type fire extinguisher is required for all recreational motorboats except outboard-powered motorboats less than 26 feet long if constructed in a manner that will not allow gas fumes to accumulate.

Even though it may not be required, we recommend always to carry a small class B-I fire extinguisher for safety.

Additional Pennsylvania Kayaking Laws Resources

Boating Law Enforcement

Waterways Conservation Officers are police officers certified by the Pennsylvania State Police Municipal Police Officers Training Standards.

Each applicant for the WCO must:

  • Be over 21 years old
  • Be a United States citizen
  • Be a Pennsylvania resident
  • Meet all certification requirements

Waterways Conservation Officers are employed by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission and specially trained in all aspects of conservation and watercraft safety.

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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