Do You Need to Register a Kayak?

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Before you take the plunge and purchase a kayak, there are a couple of items to consider. One of them is asking “Do you need to register a kayak?” 

When I first purchased my kayak, I did not think about boat registrations. It ended up being a pain in the long run. Skip my mistake and register your kayak before floating across a lake. 

Why Do Kayaks Need Registration? 

A group of people kayaking in clear water

Few summer activities are more enjoyable than kayaking down a river or lake. With a cool breeze, cold drink in hand, and the warmth of the sun on your face, kayaking is a relaxing and fun pastime easily enjoyed with friends or solo. While you might not think of a kayak as a vehicle, it sometimes needs registration, like a car or truck does. Just like driving a car, you can get a ticket for using a boat without a license. 

Notice that I said that it sometimes needs boat registration, not always. That is because whether or not you need to register your kayak depends on the state you reside. All boats with motors require registration, but because a kayak is powered only by rows, it does not always require registration. When in doubt, check your local and state laws to verify that your kayak is covered properly.

Examples of State Kayaking Rules and Regulations

A white kayak paddle 

Like many laws in the United States, watercraft registration laws vary depending on what state you are in. Obviously, most states have some type of policy, but knowing what states require takes research. 

States can create rules about whether or not you need to register your kayak based on several factors including the size of the kayak, location you wish to use it in, and how you use it. I’m not going to list all fifty states, but I’ll provide a couple of examples of how kayaking registration guidelines can change depending on the state you’re in. 


You do not need to register a paddle-propelled boat, such as a kayak, in California. However, you do need a boating permit before using it. 


You must register all boats in Pennsylvania, including inflatable boats and non motorized vessels, such as kayaks. 


In Wisconsin, you only need to register kayaks that have an electric motor. This includes any motorized kayak with a trolling motor. If you purchase a standard, non motorized watercraft, you do not have to register. See how the rules about registering your kayak can change by location? Look up your state’s guidelines before purchasing your kayak to follow the rules. 

How Do I Register My Kayak? 

A person registering a kayak and filling out paper work

You’re probably wondering not only do you need to register a kayak, but also how you go about that process. The state you’re in can play a major part in whether or not boat registration is required. Luckily for you, it is a relatively simple process that you can likely complete in less than one day. Taking the time to register your kayak (if you need to) will save you time and money in the long run by preventing you from getting a ticket. 

Before you register your kayak, there are several pieces of helpful information that you will need. These include the make and model of your kayak, its size and feet in length, its hull identification number, whether or not it has a motor, its previous owner, and your bill of sale. Having these items on hand will help the process go smoothly. 

Gathering all this information is actually the most difficult step in the process. Once you have everything you need, fill out a watercraft registration renewal form, provide any required up to date legal document, and pay a registration fee. 

As you could have guessed, the registration fee and sales tax also varies from state to state. It could be as affordable as $20 and as expensive as $200. Search your state online to see how much it costs for a registration card. Some examples of how an applicable fee is influenced by state include: 

  • Alabama – between $20-$100 depending on size
  • Colorado – between $35-$75 depending on size 
  • Florida – between $5.50-$30 depending on size 
  • Montana – $10 

Some states may allow watercraft registration online, but you typically go to the DMV. No one enjoys a trip to the DMV, but it’s well worth it to have a fun, new activity and paddle legally this summer. 

The main downside of having to register your kayak is the waiting period. It will usually take around a week or two for the DMV to process your kayak registration application. Be patient; it will be worth it! On the plus side, once your personal floatation device is registered, your boat registration is valid for at least two years. This might feel like a repetitive message, but the length of your registration depends on your state’s rules and policies. It would be less complicated if kayaking laws didn’t change from state to state. Once you submit the physical application and paperwork, you should be able to complete your renewal online to save you time in the future. 

Do I Also Need a Boating License? 

A person registering their kayak online

Depending on your state’s boating regulations, you may require a watercraft license. Look up online whether or not your state requires it. If it does, you can handle it during your visit to the DMV. You may have to visit the Department of Natural Resources or a different government department to get your watercraft license. 


Taking the time to register your kayak is an important step. Without getting this crucial documentation, your summer plans can go awry quickly. You don’t want to be out on the water and get hit with a fine for operating a vessel without a license if your state requires it. If you do not need to register your kayak, you are lucky! You can hit the water as soon as you purchase your new watercraft without delay or registration fees. Whether or not you need to register your kayak, it will be a summer full of sun, fun, and floating. 

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