Wisconsin Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regulations)


Wisconsin Kayaking Laws - Rules and Regulations

Wisconsin kayaking laws are set and governed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Wisconsin conservation wardens, country sheriffs, and municipal police enforce those kayaking rules and regulations.

Wisconsin is home to a number of rivers and reservoirs, as well as Lake Winnebago. Stretching across the entire state, there are opportunities for water activities anywhere. This wide array of waterways makes Wisconsin a great option for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and other boating activities.

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

Wisconsin Kayaking Laws Summary

  • Wisconsin Kayaking Laws – Wisconsin law considers kayaks and canoes to be manually propelled recreational vessels.
  • Wisconsin Kayak Registration – Manually propelled vessels are exempt from registration.
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – All motorboats must be registered and display valid expiration decals. This includes a trolling motor on a canoe or kayak.
  • Kayak Operator Licensing in Wisconsin – All operators of motor vessels born on or after January 1st, 1989 must complete a boating safety education course approved by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 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 younger than 15 years of age must be accompanied by a designated adult who holds a valid boating safety certificate, or have their own boating safety certificate. (See below for further restrictions)
  • Kayaking BUI Law – Wisconsin has an Operating Under the Influence (OUI) law that applies to all vessels. No person is allowed to operate a motorboat or manipulate water skis or similar devices while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 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 is required on all vessels less than 23 feet in length. (see below additional for regulations)
  • Kayaking VDS Law – VDS are required on kayaks when operating on federal waters at night.

That only summarizes Wisconsin boating laws as they are applied to kayaking and canoeing. The details are more in-depth and specific. Read on to find out how to paddle legally in Wisconsin.

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.

Wisconsin Kayak Registration

Non-Motorized

Do you have to register a kayak in Wisconsin? No. Manually propelled vessels are exempt from registration. 

Motorized

Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Wisconsin? Yes. All motorized recreational vessels require a valid Certificate of Number and expiration decals. Registrations are good for three years, beginning on April 1 and expiring March 31 at the end of each three year period. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Boat Registration PageOpens in a new tab.

Titling

Wisconsin Vessel Titling: All vessels 16 feet or more in length require a Certificate of Title. Vessels can be registered and titled at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Registration Resources

Wisconsin Online Boat Registration & Titling Page – Boat Registration PageOpens in a new tab.

Related Article: Paddle Board Registration

Wisconsin Kayaking Operator Education Laws

Non-Motorized

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

Motorized

Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in Wisconsin? Yes. All persons born on or after January 1, 1989 must complete a boating safety education course approved by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to operate a motorboat.

Youth

A person younger than 10 years of age may not operate a motorboat. Persons 10 to 11 years old may operate a motorboat when accompanied by a designated adult who holds a valid boating safety certificate. Persons 12 to 15 years of age may operate a motorboat only when accompanied by a designated adult with a valid boating safety certificate, or hold their own boating safety certificate.

Wisconsin Kayaking OUI Laws

Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Wisconsin? Yes. Wisconsin’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 Wisconsin 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. 

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

Wisconsin Kayak Life Jacket Laws

Do you need a life jacket to kayak in Wisconsin? 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 while underway in an open vessel on federally controlled waters.

Wisconsin PFD Details:

  • All PFDs should be readily accessible, in serviceable condition, and of the appropriate size for the intended user.
  • All wearable PFDs in Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin? All persons 13 years of age and under must wear a properly sized coast guard approved life jacket while underway in an open vessel. 

Type IV Throwable PFD

Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in Wisconsin? No. Paddlecraft are exempt from Wisconsin’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)

Wisconsin 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 visible from a distance of at least 2 miles away, as well as a white all-around light visible from a distance of at least 2 miles away.

Wisconsin Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Wisconsin? Yes. Vessels less than 39.4 feet in length must have some means of making an efficient sound signal. A human voice is not acceptable.

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 federal 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 federal waters in Wisconsin.

Day Signals

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

Wisconsin Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Wisconsin? 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.

Wisconsin Kayaking Laws Resources

Boating Law Enforcement

Wisconsin conservation wardens, country sheriffs, and municipal police enforce Wisconsin’s boat and water safety laws.

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

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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