Virginia Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regulations)


Virginia (VA) Kayaking Laws - Rules and Regulations

Virginia kayaking laws are set and governed by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. Conservation Police Officers employed by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources enforce those kayaking rules and regulations.

Virginia is home to a number of waterways and sits on the east coast, encompassing many miles and thousands of acres of water. This wide array of diverse waterways makes VA a great option for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and other water vessel activities.

Here’s a summary of what you need to know about VA kayaking 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.

VA Kayaking Laws Summary

  • Virginia Kayaking Laws – Virginia law considers kayaks and canoes to be manually propelled vessels.
  • Virginia Kayak Registration – Manually propelled kayaks and canoes are exempt from registration.
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – All motorboats must be registered and display valid stickers. This includes a trolling motor on a canoe or kayak.
  • Kayak Operator Licensing in Virginia – Non-motorized vessels do not require a license to operate in Virginia. Operators of motorized vessels with a 10hp or greater motor are required to have a boating safety education course completion card.
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – All operators of motor vessels with 10 or more horsepower, regardless of age, are required to have a boating safety education course completion card on board. (See below for further restrictions)
  • Kayaking BUI Law – Virginia has an Operating Under the Influence (OUI) law that applies to all vessels. No person is allowed to operate a watercraft under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other self-administered intoxicants. A person is operating illegally when their blood alcohol content is .08% or above. (see below for additional regulations)
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person on board. (see below for kayak and canoe specifics)
  • Kayak Lights Law – Kayaks must carry a white lantern or electric torch that can be displayed in sufficient time to prevent collision.
  • Kayaking Sounding Devices – A sounding device that can make an efficient sound signal for 4-6 seconds is required on all paddlecraft vessels. (see below additional for regulations)
  • Kayaking VDS Law – VDS are required on kayaks when operating on coastal waters at night.

That only summarizes Virginia 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 Virginia.

Affiliate Notification: Paddle Camp is reader-supported. Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means we will earn a commission on the products or services you purchase using the links.

Virginia Kayak Registration

Non-Motorized

Do you have to register a kayak in Virginia? No. Manually propelled canoes, kayaks, and other non-motorized vehicles are exempt from registration. 

Motorized

Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Virginia? Yes. All motorized vessels require a valid certificate of number and validation decal. Registrations are good for three years.

Titling

Virginia Vessel Titling: All motorized vessels must be titled. Vessels can be registered and titled at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

Registration Resources

Related Article: Paddle Board Registration

Virginia Kayaking Operator Education Laws

Non-Motorized

Do you need a license to kayak in Virginia? No. Boater Education is not required for any non-motorized vessel in Virginia. 

Motorized

Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in Virginia? Yes. All persons, regardless of age, must successfully complete an approved boating safety education course and keep the card on board to operate any motorized vessel legally.

Youth

All operators of vessels with 10 horsepower or more, regardless of age, are required to have a boating safety course completion card.

Virginia Kayaking OUI Laws

Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Virginia? Yes. Virginia’s OUI law prohibits anyone from operating any vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You can get the equivalent of a DUI, an OUI (Operating Under the Influence) in Virginia with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08%, or if under the influence of controlled drugs or other substances when operating any motorized vessel. Virginia has a Zero Tolerance policy for anyone under 21 years of age.

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

Virginia Kayak Life Jacket Laws

Do you need a life jacket to kayak in Virginia? Yes. All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person on board, and all persons 13 years of age and under must wear a properly sized coast guard approved life jacket whenever the boat is in operation unless below deck or in an enclosed cabin.

Virginia PFD Details:

  • All PFDs should be readily accessible, in serviceable condition, and of the appropriate size for the intended user.
  • All wearable PFDs in Virginia are required to by a USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V. Type V PFDs must be worn according to their instructions.

PFD Age Laws

What age do you have to wear a life jacket in Virginia? All persons 13 years of age and under must wear a properly sized coast guard approved life jacket unless below deck or in an enclosed cabin. 

Type IV Throwable PFD

Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in Virginia? No. Paddlecraft are exempt from Virginia’s law that all vessels 16 feet or longer in length must carry at least one throwable PFD.

Related Article: Kayak Life Jacket Laws by State (50 State List)

Virginia Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night? All unpowered vessels less than 23 feet in length must have at least one bright light, lantern, or flashlight of white color which can be displayed in sufficient time to prevent a collision.

While anchored or adrift, the white light must be on.

Powered vessels require USCG-approved red and green side lights as well as a white all-around light when not at dock. The white light must be visible at a distance of at least two miles, and the colored lights must be visible at a distance of at least one mile.

Virginia Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Virginia? Yes. Paddlecraft must have some way of making an efficient sound signal that lasts between 4-6 seconds in duration, such as a whistle or air horn.

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

Visual distress signals are required when operating on coastal waters between sunset and sunrise. Motorized vessels 16 feet and greater are also required to carry day signals. Visual distress signals must be USCG-approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible. 

Night Signals

Night signals are required between sunset and sunrise when operating on coastal waters in Virginia.

Day Signals

Visual Distress Signals are not required for non-motorized kayaks during the day unless the boat is over 16 feet in length.

Virginia Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Virginia? No. Even if you have a trolling motor on your kayak, if the fuel tank isn’t permanently installed and is of open construction, you aren’t required to have a 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’re far from the shore.

Additional Virginia Kayaking Laws Resources

Boating Law Enforcement

Conservation Police Officers employed by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources enforce Virginia’s boat and water safety laws.

As always, USCG officers enforce federally controlled waters in Virginia.

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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