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Georgia Kayak Laws And Regulations

Mark Armstrong
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Georgia is filled with fantastic places to paddle, from relaxing rivers to beautiful coastal waters. However, for your own safety and the safety of others, it can be important to learn about some of the regulations before you head to the water.

We have put together some information on Georgia kayak laws so that you can stay safe and legal while you’re out having fun.

Georgia Kayak & Boat Registration Laws

Without A Motor

Non-motorized vessels do not need to be registered in the state of Georgia in order to be used on Georgia waters. This means kayaks, canoes and other paddled or wind powered boats do not need to be registered. Sailboats over 12 feet in length, however, do need to be registered.

Remember, if you add a motor to any of these vessels then your boat will fall into the motorized category and will then require a Certificate of Boat Registration.


Georgia requires all mechanically operated vessels to be registered with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. However, if you use your vessel solely on a private lake or pond then it can be exempt from registration.

Your boat will also be exempt from registration if it’s registered in another state and used on Georgia waters for no more than 60 days.

Cost Of Registration

The cost of registering your boat in Georgia depends on its length. For vessels under 16 feet, it costs $35. For vessels between 16 feet and 26 feet, the cost of registration is $70. Boat registrations are valid for three years.

There is also a $10 transaction fee for every new registration. For online renewals the transaction fee is $8.

How To Register

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You can register your vessel online. To do this you will need to complete and sign a Vessel Registration Application. You will also need to have your Proof of Ownership, usually the bill of sale or the dealer’s invoice. The Proof of Ownership should include your name and the seller’s name.

You can upload the documents online for online registration applications or they can be emailed, faxed or mailed.

When you receive your pocket-sized plastic certificate, you need to have this on board your vessel at all times while you’re in operation.

You are also required to display your registration numbers on both sides of your bow. The numbers can be painted on your boat, or you can use a decal, and they need to be at least three inches and be in block letters of a contrasting color for readability.

Georgia PFD Boating Regulations (Life Jackets/Vests)

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All vessels in Georgia are required to have on board at least one wearable Type I, II or III US Coast Guard approved PFD (Personal Flotation Device). A Type V PFD can be used but in order to comply with regulations it must be correctly worn at all times.

If your boat is 16 feet or longer, you are also required to have at least one US Coast Guard approved Type IV throwable PFD that is easily and quickly accessible in an emergency.


All children under the age of 13 are required under Georgia law to wear a US Coast Guard approved life jacket (Type I, II or III) at all times while on vessels that are underway. However, this does not apply if the child is in an enclosed cabin.

What About Alcohol Laws (BUI – Boating Under The Influence)?

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It is against the law to operate a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It’s also against the law to allow someone to operate your vessel while they are under the influence.

If you are 21 years or over, you will be considered to be under the influence if your blood alcohol level is 0.08% or higher, or if drug use is suspected. If you’re under the age of 21 the blood alcohol limit is 0.02%.

If you are found to be boating under the influence you could face a fine of up to $1000 and a year in jail. You could also be banned from operating a boat until you complete an approved alcohol or drug use risk program. Additionally, you could face further charges if you have children under the age of 14 on your vessel at the time.

Other Kayak & Boating Laws in Georgia

Do I Need Lights On My Kayak?

If you’re in a kayak or other vessel under 16 feet long, you will be required to have a white light which can be displayed in time to avoid a collision. A flashlight can be suitable for kayaks and canoes.

For kayaks and small non-motorized vessels, a light is only required if you’re boating between the hours of sunset and sunrise. However, it is recommended that you have a flashlight with you at all times in case anything prevents you from returning to shore before dark.

Motorized vessels and sailboats are required to have red and green side lights, as well as a white stern light that can be visible for at least two miles.

Any vessel that is anchored in a non-designated mooring area must display a white light.

What About Maritime Distress Signals?

Visual Distress Signals (VDS) may be required if you plan to boat on federally controlled waters, such as Georgia’s coastal waters. All vessels must carry night signals if on the water between sunset and sunrise. Vessels longer than 16 feet and non-motorized sailboats more than 26 feet must also carry day signals.

Night signals can include an electric distress light or handheld red flares. Day signals can include floating orange smoke signals or an orange flag but these are not required on kayaks or other paddled craft. If you use pyrotechnic distress signals you will need to carry three of them.

Video: Visual Distress Signals (VDS)

On federal waters you are also required to have a whistle or horn on all vessels. On vessels over 65.6 feet you are required to have a bell in addition to the whistle or horn.

On Georgia waters, you will need a whistle, horn or other sound producing device on vessels that are 26 feet or more. It’s also advised that you carry a sound producing device, such as a whistle, on smaller vessels, such as kayaks, but this is not mandatory on state controlled waters.

Minimum Age To Kayak And Boat

There is no minimum age requirement to operate a kayak in Georgia. Kids under 12 years old are not allowed to operate a vessel longer than 16 feet or with a motor greater than 30 horsepower. However, they can operate shorter vessels with reduced motors if under direct adult supervision.

Children aged 12 to 15 can operate a vessel shorter than 16 feet if they have passed a boater education course or are accompanied by a suitable adult.

If you are 16 years or older you can operate any vessel as long as you have a driver’s license or other government issued photo ID. If you were born in or after 1998 you will need to have passed a boating education course and carry your Boater Education Card with you at all times while you’re operating a vessel.

Video: Boating Safety in Georgia: Boater Education

Wrapping Up

The Peach State has lots to offer when it comes to kayaking and boating, and getting to know the laws can help you and others stay safer while you’re enjoying the water.

Remember, PFDs are required by law on all vessels in Georgia and children under 13 must wear them at all times while on open decks or small vessels like kayaks and canoes.

You don’t need to register your kayak or small boat if it doesn’t have a motor but if you choose to add one in future you will need to register it with the Georgia DNR.

If you found this helpful, share it, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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