West Virginia kayaking laws are set and governed by the WV Division of Natural Resources. Every officer within their respective jurisdiction, as well as Conservation Officers employed by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, enforce those kayaking rules and regulations.
West Virginia is home to a number of rivers and creeks that add up to a significant number of miles and acres of water. With so many places spread across the state, West Virginia is a great option for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and other boating activities.
Here’s a summary of what you need to know about WV 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.
West Virginia Kayak Laws Summary
- West Virginia Kayaking Laws – West Virginia law considers kayaks and canoes to be non-motorized vessels.
- West Virginia Kayak Registration – Non-motorized vessels are exempt from registration.
- Motorized Kayak Registration – All vessels with a motor, whether or not the motor is the principal source of propulsion, must be registered through the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles. This includes a trolling motor on a canoe or kayak.
- Kayak Operator Licensing in West Virginia – Non-motorized vessels do not require a license to operate in West Virginia. Operators of motorized vessels born after December 31, 1986 must complete a boating safety education course and carry the course completion certificate on board.
- Motorized Kayaking Age – Those aged 12 to 14 may only operate a motorized vessel after completing a boating safety education course. A person 18 years or older must also be aboard if the vessel’s motor is 10 horsepower or more. (See below for further restrictions)
- Kayaking BUI Law – West Virginia has an Operating Under the Influence (OUI) law that applies to all motorized 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 that is visible for at least 2 miles.
- Kayaking Sounding Devices – A sounding device that can make an efficient sound signal such as a whistle or powered-horn is required on all vessels under 26 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 West 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 West Virginia.
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West Virginia Kayak Registration
Do you have to register a kayak in West Virginia? No. Non-motorized vessels are exempt from registration in West Virginia.
Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in West Virginia? Yes. All motorized vessels require registration at the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Registrations are good for three years. – West Virginia Department of Natural Resources Boat Classification Page
West Virginia Vessel Titling: All motorized vessels must be titled as of July 1st, 1989. Vessels can be registered and titled at the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles.
West Virginia Online Boat Registration & Titling Information Page – Boat Registration Page
Related Article: Paddle Board Registration
West Virginia Kayaking Operator Education Laws
Do you need a license to kayak in West Virginia? No. Boater Education is not required for any non-motorized vessel in West Virginia.
Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in West Virginia? Yes. All persons, regardless of age, must successfully complete an approved boating safety education course and keep the completion certificate on board to operate any motorized vessel legally.
Those aged 12 to 14 may only operate a motorized vessel after completing a boating safety education course. A person 18 years or older must also be aboard if the vessel’s motor is 10 horsepower or more..
West Virginia Kayaking OUI Laws
Can you get a DUI on a kayak in West Virginia? Only on motorized kayaks. West Virginia’s OUI law prohibits anyone from operating any motorized vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You can get the equivalent of a DUI, an OUI (Operating Under the Influence) in West 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.
Related Article: Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak?
West Virginia Kayak Life Jacket Laws
Do you need a life jacket to kayak in West Virginia? Yes. All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person on board, and all children 12 years of age and younger must wear a properly sized coast guard approved life jacket while on the deck of any motorboat underway.
West 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 West 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 West Virginia? All persons 12 years of age and under must wear a properly sized coast guard approved life jacket while on the deck of any motorized vessel underway.
Type IV Throwable PFD
Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in West Virginia? No. Paddlecraft are exempt from West 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)
West 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. The light must be visible for at least 2 miles.
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.
West Virginia Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws
Do I need a whistle on a kayak in West Virginia? Yes. All vessels less than 26 feet in length must carry a mouth whistle or power-operated horn capable of producing a blast that is audible for at least one-half mile.
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.
Here’s what we consider to be the best whistle for kayaking.
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 are required between sunset and sunrise when operating on federal waters in West Virginia.
Visual Distress Signals are not required for non-motorized kayaks during the day unless the boat is over 16 feet in length.
West Virginia Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws
Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in West 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 West Virginia Kayaking Laws Resources
- West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources Boating Enforcement Directory Page
- West Virginia Boating Regulations and Laws Synopsis
Boating Law Enforcement
Every officer within their respective jurisdiction, as well as Conservation Officers employed by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, enforce West Virginia’s boat and water safety laws.
As always, USCG officers enforce federally controlled waters in West Virginia.