Is a kayak considered a boat? Everything you need to know

Is a kayak considered a boat? Everything you need to know
Photo by Vlada / Unsplash

Whether you are trying to solve an argument with your friend or wondering what regulations you may have to follow, many people wonder at some point if a kayak falls under the definition of being a boat.

For some people, this may seem obvious since it is a vehicle that floats on water and is used for transportation but that isn't always the case, especially when it comes to boating regulations.

While different people may have an opinion on whether they consider a kayak a boat. In the eyes of the law, a kayak is considered a boat and therefore subject to boating regulations. This includes rules on who can operate a kayak and how they can operate the kayak. These rules can vary a lot based on where you live.
Table of contents

Is a kayak a boat?

In order to first answer this question. We must ask what exactly a boat is and does a kayak fit the criteria.

According to the encyclopedia Britannica, here is the definition of what a boat is.

boat, generic term for small watercraft propelled by paddles, oars, sail, or motor, open or partially decked, and usually less than 45 feet (roughly 14 metres) in length.

As you can see, kayaks (and their variants) easily fall into this definition since they are primarily propelled by paddles or motors.

While this may seem obvious to many people. This definition is important since it may be used for making boating regulations. In many countries and states, boats are often licensed and registered meaning they are subject to special regulations.

These regulations can often dictate the size and weight your boat can be before you would have to register it as well as the minimum age someone would have to be to operate it.

So, while a kayak is considered a boat by definition, it still depends on how your local government views it when it comes to boating regulations.

Photo by Wengang Zhai / Unsplash

Do I need a boating license and registration for my kayak?

There is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on the state or country in which you reside. Some states do not require a license to operate a kayak, while others do. In general, however, it is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the boating laws in your area before heading out on the water.

Luckily, If you live in America then no states require any boating license for you to operate a kayak. However, there are a few states that require registration of your kayak, sometimes depending on its size. Here is a quick list of the few states, their requirements, and where you can go to register your kayak if need be.

State Requirement Link to register
Iowa Required if kayak is over 13 feet long Link
Minnesota Required if kayak is over 10 feet long Link
Ohio All kayaks need registration but do not require a title Link
Oregon Must have waterway access permit if kayak is over 10 feet long Link
Pennsylvania Must register and display proof Link
South Dakota Required if kayak is over 10 feet long Link

What laws do I need to follow for kayaking?

This is another thing that is very dependent on where you live and the requirements the governing boating body has set in place.

At the very least, the one item that is required in every place I have visited is a life jacket. While not just a law, it is always important to wear a life jacket at all times for your safety.

Asides from your life jacket, there are a few other things that you should have that will also be incredibly handy in case of an emergency situation. While they are not required everywhere, it is still very useful to have these.

  • A whistle or some other signaling device. These can be great for getting others' attention in case you get stranded or end up in an emergency. I would recommend having both an auditory and visual signal to maximize your chance of getting help.  
  • A device to empty your kayak. Whether it's just a bucket or a bilge pump, these can be great for getting water out of your kayak. These tools are very important and also needed for self-recovery in the event you capsize your boat.
  • A rope. Useful for attaching your boat to others or anchoring somewhere. Also great for towing!
  • First aid kit. Always useful, especially if you kayak a lot on your own. At least having bandages is good in case you get blisters from paddling.
  • A compass and a map. These are great to have in case you get lost. It's always best to map out your planned route beforehand but having a map and compass with you can help you find yourself, no matter where you end up.
  • Tape. Having some strong and durable tape can also be great in the rare event that you break your paddle. Anyone that has tried can tell you that using your kayak as a row boat is incredibly hard

To re-iterate, not all of these may be required by law but can be a huge life saver in case anything goes wrong. At the very least, I would suggest buying a marine safety kit. This kit will include many essentials such as a whistle, floating rope, flashlight, and more useful items all compactly packed inside a bailer bucket.


It may seem obvious that a kayak easily qualifies as a boat but knowing that is half the story. Often, what matters is how your local boating regulator views it. For many people who are getting into kayaking, it can be hard to find the right information.

So, yes, a kayak is considered a boat. This means that it is subject to your local boating regulations. If you are planning to purchase or rent a kayak, be sure to inform yourself of the local laws. These exist to protect you and your fellow boaters on the water.

Happy Paddling!!