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Michigan Kayak Laws And Regulations

Mark Armstrong
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Surrounded by four of the majestic Great Lakes and crisscrossed by countless rivers, Michigan is a kayaker’s dream.

However, before you set your kayak afloat, it’s vital to know the Michigan’s safety laws.

Ensure a safe and enjoyable journey by checking out my guide to Michigan’s kayaking laws.

Do Kayaks Need To Be Registered In Michigan?

Kayak Without A Motor

Boats that are 16 feet or less in length and powered solely by paddles or oars do not need to be registered in Michigan. Non-motorized kayaks and canoes of any length do not need to be registered but sailboats, on the other hand, will require registration.

Similarly, all hand powered boats longer than 16 feet will need to be registered.

Motorized Kayak

All motorized vessels need to be registered with the Michigan Department of State. This includes kayaks and canoes that have a trolling motor attached. All registrations are valid for three years and expire on March 31st.

Motorized vessels that are 20 feet or longer also need to be titled.

Cost Of Registration

The cost of registering your boat in Michigan will depend on your vessel’s length and whether it’s a sailboat or a motorized craft. To register a non-motorized sailboat the fee is $9.

For motorized vessels up to 12 feet (as well as motorized canoes or kayaks) the fee is $14. For vessels up to 16 feet the fee is $17 and for up to 21 feet you’ll pay $42.

If your boat needs to be titled you will pay an additional $5.

How To Register A Kayak Or Boat

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Boat registrations are processed through the Michigan Secretary of State. You can submit your documents and pay the relevant fees at your local Secretary of State office.

The documents you need to submit are a Bill of Sale and an Application for Michigan Watercraft Title. You will also need to submit a sales receipt to show that you’ve paid the required state taxes.

After you’ve registered your boat you will receive the validation decals and the registration number. The numbers should be fixed to both sides of the bow of your vessel, above the waterline, in three inch high block letters. Your validation decal should also be attached to the right of your registration number, three inches from the last letter.

Michigan PFD Boating Regulations (Life Jackets and Vests)

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Michigan law requires that all vessels have a US Coast Guard approved PFD (Personal Flotation Device) on board for each person on board the craft. To meet the requirements, these PFDs must be a wearable Type I, II or III life jacket.

For kayaks and canoes, however, the law states that the PFD on board can be a throwable Type IV PFD instead of a wearable one but there must be one readily available and accessible for each person on board the craft. This can also apply to small boats under 16 feet in length.

For vessels longer than 16 feet, you will require a wearable PFD for each person as well as an easily accessible throwable device.


Children under 6 are required to wear a US Coast Guard approved Type I or Type II life jacket while on the open deck of any vessel while the vessel is underway. This includes kayaks and canoes.

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

It is against the law in Michigan to operate a vessel while under the influence of drugs, alcohol or any substance that can impair your ability to safely operate a vessel.

If you are found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or above then you will be considered to be under the influence.

If you are arrested for a BUI you are guilty of a misdemeanor. If you are convicted three times within 10 years you are guilty of a felony.

Other Kayak & Michigan Boating Laws

Do I Need Lights On My Kayak?

Kayaks, canoes and non-motorized boats less than 26 feet are required to have a minimum of one flashlight or lantern with a white light while operating between the hours of sunset and sunrise or in periods of reduced visibility.

For motorized vessels less than 26 feet long you are required to display red and green sidelights plus an all-around white masthead light or stern light. The red and green lights must be visible from at least a mile away and the stern or masthead light needs to be visible from at least two miles away.

What About Maritime Distress Signals?

Maritime Distress Signals are required when boating on federally controlled waters, which includes the Great Lakes. With Michigan having direct access to four of the five Great Lakes, Visual Distress Signals (VDS) will be required if you boat on any of these waters.

If you operate a kayak on any of the Great Lakes between sunset and sunrise then you must have night signals on board. For kayaks and canoes, this can be an electric distress light or three handheld red flares. All vessels operating at night must have night signals but not all are required to carry day signals.

Day signals are required for motorized vessels over 16 feet and all vessels over 26 feet.

Sound Producing Devices

There is no legal requirement for kayakers and canoeists to carry a whistle while on state waters in Michigan. But you are required to carry one if paddling on the Great Lakes.

For motorized vessels between 16 feet and 26 feet you are required to have a whistle that can be heard from half a mile away. For larger vessels the sound must be heard from at least a mile away.

Minimum Age To Kayak

There is no minimum age requirement to kayak in Michigan or operate a non-motorized vessel.

If you’re under 12 years old you are allowed to operate a motorized vessel with a motor of 6 hp or less. This does not require adult supervision.

However, if you’re under 12 and want to operate a vessel with a motor greater than 6 hp you need to have a boating safety certificate and be accompanied by a supervisor over the age of 16. Under 12s are not allowed to operate boats with over 35 hp motors.

If you were born on or after July 1st 1996 you will also need to have a boating safety certificate to operate a motorized vessel.

Invasive Species Prevention

In Michigan you must make sure that your vessel is free of any aquatic life, including plants, before you enter any water in Michigan. You are also not allowed to transport a vessel without draining all water from bilges or live wells. You must remove all drain plugs and never release unused bait into the water after fishing.

Video: New Boating And Fishing Laws In Michigan

Wrapping Up Michigan Kayaking and Boating Laws

Michigan can be a great place for boaters and kayakers, but it can be important to follow the state laws and regulations to keep yourself and others safe.

Remember, if you’re boating on any of the Great Lakes you will need to follow additional rules determined by the US Coast Guard, including making sure you have the necessary visual distress signals on your vessel.

Leave us a comment if you found this guide helpful and share it with others to help more people stay safe on Michigan’s waters.

> Kayaking in Michigan

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1 thought on “Michigan Kayak Laws And Regulations”

  1. My question is, why can an adult operate an electric bike or an electric scooter without having to register it, but a canoe with an electric motor needs to be registered?


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