Need a permit or license for a kayak?

-- Last Updated: Feb-20-11 9:40 PM EST --

I noticed that several vessels stated that they included a coast guard ID, or something like that.

Does one need a permit or license or anything to own and paddle a kayak?

I'm looking at an inflatable kayak around 10' long, and I'm planning to paddle in still/gentle rivers and lakes, mostly in Eastern PA... though I'd like to explore other places in the future.
I may use it to paddle a distance and overnight camp.

Are there any places that are restricted, or would require a permit or license?

yes some places require permits
others will respond shortly i’m sure…

if you specified what state (or areas) in specific you will get much better answers…

different states have different rules. some require registration, some don’t.

some states have specific areas which you need permits to paddle, while other areas you don’t need permits…

unfortunately there is no one answer as the requirements do vary greatly state by state…

eastern PA
thanks, I updated the original post…

It’s for eastern PA… New Hope, Nockamixon, and around there…

PA. web link …

map of permit-req areas, and order link

to summarize vaugely…

no permit is required for a non-powered kayak or canoe… unless using a PA Fish and Boat Commiss. boat ramp or surrounding property. The wording elsewhere includes any state forest or park (DCNR), or where required by owner (such as USACE).

this link:

“Map and listing below show lakes, reservoirs and dams owned and/or managed by the Commission (PFBC), Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) and United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The alphabetical listing below the map includes additional lakes not owned/managed by PFBC, DCNR or USACE.”

and this link includes more details and a place to order a permit online

Permits and requirements
Permits are one thing and as above they vary by location, also type (boat permit, user permit etc). Don’t pass by the permits to use state launch ramps too quickly - in some states the local conservation or whatever folks have those spots staked out. It may be worth paying the fee to avoid the hassle, depending on your use, if nothing else consider it a parking fee.

The permit issue is different from requirements that a state or the Coast Guard - whoever has jurisdiction - may impose for things like PFD’s, lights, whistles etc. You need to be attentive to those as well, which exist in just about all areas regardless of whether a permit is needed.

Some states have talked about paddlers needing to show a piece of paper indicating they’ve taken some kind of basic safety and paddling course, but as far as I know this hasn’t been imposed anywhere yet. The two states to stay on top of are Massachusetts and Maine. They’ve been trying to get such a condition thru for quite a while and one of these years they may succeed.

You’re lucky to have such a great place to paddle near you - I loved Nockamixon. I made the effort to get the pass for this park, even though I was only there for a half day. It was a good thing too, there was a water-cop of some sort cruising around and he came close enough to see that I had a permit hanging on my pfd. I bought a week’s pass (shortest time available) and remember that a year’s pass didn’t seem too expensive - well worth it.

To register or not to register …
I’ve recently pondered the same.

I’m in Michigan and there is no requirement for non-motorized yaks or canoes to be registered however, some other states do. Minnesota requires all to have a registration (think BWCA) as does Ohio. The cost to register an out-of-stater in Minnesota is $23 per boat if I’m recalling correctly, and am not sure what the cost in Ohio is. They both temporarily recognize and accept out-of-state registrations for a period of time. (I think it’s 90 days) In Michigan, we may voluntarily register our non-motorized yaks and canoes for $5, so that’s the route I’m going.

As always, you’ll have to verify your specifics, but voluntary home registration generally will provide some additional traveling/paddling options at reduced costs.


I think all yaks should have to be licensed, and taxed…with the money going to donating canoes to local schools so youngsters get started on the right foot paddling God’s watercraft rather than…“those other things”.

In time
you will likely get your wish and see all paddlers forced to register their boats and pay fees. There’s usually some excuse made to justify the fees such as public safety, reducing theft or the age old standard “do it for the kids”.

I oppose all registration and see it as just more money down the rat hole.

Yes in PA

Yes you need a Launch permit from the DCNR or non-powered boat permit from the Fish & Boat Comm. unless your on a private lake, pond or part of a stream.

They are both the same, and same price, $10 for 1 year or $18 for 2 years. Permits from the DCNR are easier to get. The are available at most state park offices any DCNR office and other stores and sport shops. If you call them and give them your zip code they will tell you where the closest place to you is.

I live near Allentown and plan on heading down the lake soon too, well as soon as the ice melts.

Fla. does not require a decal, as long as it has no motor of any kind. If you do register it, you pay the same as a boat with a 100 hp red fred hanging on the back, Fla. goes by length. Also they recently doubled the registration fees.

They’re different things
My state (CO) presently does not require that kayaks be registered as powerboats must be.

However, when I paddle in Yellowstone NP or Grand Teton NP, I must buy a permit to paddle there, regardless where my boat comes from.

The state of Oregon requires each boat, including canoes and kayaks, on the water, to have on board, a seven dollar per year permit, designated to fund launch ramp washing stations to fight the spread of invasive species. whereas I mostly paddle in a small area, containing lakes, reservours, estuaries,rivers, and creeks,and rarely use a launch ramp, I feel that I’m probably not part of the problem. However, if it keeps even one species from getting established in Oregon, I feel seven dollars is not too much to pay.


Coast Guard Operation Paddle Smart
The US Coast Guard has come up with a program called Paddle Smart. It’s meant to stop stupid kayakers from paddling in winter with street clothes and no PFD and more. But one aspect is the CG ID sticker that they give out so you can have your personal ID inside your boat. It’s free with no paperwork filled out to anybody. The more paddlers do it, the less likely various states try to pass registration with the phony reason of IDs.

More paddling regulation won’t happen in Maine anytime soon (thankfully), given the recent twist in state politics (unfortunately).

Bucks County Pa.
I live near Lake Noxamixon and was told that you will also need a special Bucks County permit to paddle on the lakes that are in Bucks County Parks, like Peace Valley Park & Lake Towhee.

No permit required here. However, it seems (I can’t find this in the regs anywhere) that if you are renting a canoe or kayak and have no skills whatsoever, you are required to sit on or lash your PFD to your boat so that it is useless and so that you won’t require an hasty and expensive rescue.

permit for Bucks Co, PA

– Last Updated: Feb-22-11 10:56 PM EST –

"I live near Lake Noxamixon and was told that you will also need a special Bucks County permit to paddle on the lakes that are in Bucks County Parks, like Peace Valley Park & Lake Towhee."

If one purchased this permit, are they exempt from needing the PFBC/DCNR ramp use permit, to use these specific waters?
Annual Boat Launch Permits
"Permits can be purchased at the Core Creek Park Office, Peace Valley Boat Rental, Peace Valley Maintenance Shop, Core Creek Boat Rental, and from any one of the Park Rangers. The permit allows persons owning a boat to launch at 6 County Lakes and 2 river access areas."

The page for Nockamixon states
Non-powered boats must display one of the following: boat registration from any state; launching permit or mooring permit from Pennsylvania State Parks that are available at most state park offices; launch use permit from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

So far every DCNR PA State Park I have checked, has the same requirement.

All the Bucks lakes only have information regarding boat rentals.

Kayaking at Bucks Co. Parks
You have to purchase a permit specific to Bucks Co. Parks, which apparently can be purchased at the boat rental areas at the parks.