US Coast Guard Requirements

I called the local Coast Guard station and the two people I spoke to on the phone had, “no idea.”

Would appreciate if anyone knows what equipment is required when the Coast Guard stops a kayak…day and night.


Type III

The two critical code of laws for federal requirements are to be found in 33CFR and COLREGS.

CFR is “Code of Federal Regulations”, 33 the area pertinent to marine law.

COLREGS is the Collision Regulations.

Do note that individual states can have laws in addition to the federal regs.


you must have a CG approved personal flotation device. If it a type V, you are required to wear it.

We are exempt from having to carry a “throwable type” flotation device.

Racing canoes and kayaks are exempt.

You must also carry an “effective sound making device”. Over a certain size, the loudness in decibels is prescribed. For us, a whistle will do. Do note, that while the law stipulates that each vessel must carry such a device, most law enforcement agencies interpret that to mean each paddler, ie, both paddlers in a tandem canoe or tandem kayak.

At night, you are required to carry “a bright light that can turned on” as necessary to avoid collision. No red, no green, and especially, no, no no flashing. Flashing lights are a distress signal (offshore only, and only if it is a strobe), or are reserved for use as a fixed navaid. Also in COLREGS, if you do need to turn on a light to avoid collision, you cannot shine it directly to the pilot of the other vessel.

Last, you must carry three night approved signalling divices. Aerial flares and hand held pyrotechnic flares are an example. Smoke flares do not count. Of particular note is that “bright light that can be turned on”. Shine it on yourself while you are waving your arms up and down (an internationally approved signal for help), and that light counts as one of the devices.

And that is about it.


Except on inland waterways, some states
may have additional rules that must be followed. In Texas, paddle craft must have a 360 degree light at night turned on while underway or anchored, but not docked.

Thanks for your replies!

Don’t ever call…
…this one:

Greez from Germany :wink:

Coast Guard
For what it’s worth, we find that a Coast Guard boat will slow down and look us over once or twice a year when we vacation on the coast of Maine. That’s been three weeks the last few years, two before that for many years. But that’s all they do - they seem to be checking for signs of basic prep like PFD’s, apt clothing, indications of emergency gear and appropriate boats. They wave, we wave and everyone goes on their way. We haven’t ever seen them in deep fog where they may reasonably be checking for bright white lights and a foghorn - have always figured that they were dealing with some vacationer who doesn’t know how to navigate without seeing land at those times.

However, we have seen them pull over a kayaker who was out after dark, too darned close to a ferry dock with no reflective clothing and nothing for a light other than a little headlamp. Given their obvious exasperation over the speakers they probably found something to cite them for. (More than due.)

Stop it, you’re killing me!
That’s seriously funny!

I Read Otterslides Response
and I thought he was incorrect. So, I looked up the regs at

and the way I read it he is correct. I have asked several people at local outfitters and a USCG PO and have always heard that the only night device required was a flashlight. However if you read the regs stated on the requirments page it looks like a simple flashlight won’t get it if you paddle at night on any coastal water or waters connected to coastal waters.

I have a 3 pack of the small arial flares which I seldom carry and likely are out of date by now. Guess Ill rotate the stock and start carring these as a normal.

Happy Paddling,


New to me.
You learn new stuff everyday. I didn’t know about the flare requiremnet either. I’ve been just carrying the flashlight and headlight as backup and a whistle. West maring sells a signal light that is supoosed to be able to be substituted for a night signalling device. I think I’ll look into that givng my poor experiences with flares.

distress signal v. night light

– Last Updated: Jun-16-06 3:14 PM EST –

The regs require you to have a visual distress signal which is not the same as a light available for navigation/collision avoidance. Two different requirements under the regs. A light for navigation/collision avoidance does not meet the requirements for a visual distress signal. Regs require both.

Hey Frank
What bad experience with flares have you had? Yes, I saw the flashlight with the CG approval on the West Marine site.


Wouldn’t a strobe on your PFD satisfy the visual distress signal requirement or does it need to be flares?

Strobe does not count
I should leave this to those on the list who know the rules from long experience on vessels, but the regs say that a strobe is a recognized distress signal on inland waters ( within demarcation line along the coast), but it is NOT recognized as a valid visual distress signal device for puposes of complying with the rules and therefore having only a strobe does not comply with requirements. I know, sounds odd, but that is what the regs say.

A strobe is not recognized as a distress signal beyond demarcation line in offshore waters.

I guess I understand
if you’re far offshore that a flare is needed, but if you’re paddling coastal waterways it sounds like strobes are fine?

It depends
If the body of water you are paddling follows the Inland Rules or the International Rules.

In international rules, the strobe is not a distress signal. Also, electric distress signals need to be able to automatically flash SOS or they don’t count.

Which rules you are subject to is not determined by how far off shore you are. The Great Lakes are International. In Southern California, we use International Rules as soon as we leave a harbor entrance. I believe that in Washington, Puget Sound is considered Inland Rules.

Best bet is to check with the CG if you are uncertain

Local USCG
personnel have told me that a flashlight is all that is required. Now after reading the rules it is apparent that this information is incorrect. Whatever type of visual signals you choose it has to actually be marked as approved by the USCG. Most of our paddling areas change from inland to international at harbor, Inlet, River, and Bay enterances to the ocean hear on the East coast. If you look at a NOAA chart the demarcation line is show which is the changeover point.


You only need the aerial flares

– Last Updated: Jun-19-06 2:43 PM EST –

unless the body of water you are paddling is wider than I believe 2 miles.

These are the Texas regs from
TPWD, nothing about 3 miles:

ights Required

All vessels including motorboats, canoes, kayaks, punts, rowboats, rubber rafts, or other vessels when not at dock must have and exhibit at least one bright light, lantern or flashlight visible all around the horizon from sunset to sunrise in all weather and during restricted visibility.

Navigation Lights

Power Driven Vessels Underway: Power driven vessels of less than 20 meters (65.6 ft.) but more than 12 meters (39.4 ft.) shall exhibit navigation lights as shown in Figure 1. Vessels of less than 12 meters in length, shall show the lights in either Figure 1 or Figure 2.

Manually Driven Vessels: Manually driven vessels when paddled, poled, oared, or windblown;

* A sailing vessel of less than 20 meters (65.6 ft.), while underway shall exhibit sidelights and a sternlight which may be combined in one lantern carried at or near the top of the mast where it can best be seen.

* A sailing vessel of less than 7 meters (23 ft.) shall, if practicable, exhibit the sidelights and a sternlight, or shall exhibit at least one bright light, lantern or flashlight from sunset to sunrise when not at dock.

* All other manually driven vessels may exhibit sidelights and a sternlight, or shall exhibit at least one bright light, lantern, or flashlight from sunset to sunrise when not at dock.

In vessels of less than 12 meters (39.4 feet), white lights shall be visible at a distance of at least two (2) miles. Colored lights shall be visible at a distance of at least one (1) mile. “Visible” when applied to lights, means visible on dark nights with clear atmosphere.

KAYAKS for Equipment inspections. And if per chance they do, you might suggest they switch priorities to inspecting Port Security. After years, The only thing necessary for Kayaks is PFD.