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Virginia Kayak Laws And Regulations

Mark Armstrong
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Virginia is home to beautiful scenery, relaxing water trails and an abundance of wildlife, making it an excellent place for a paddling adventure. But before you go, you might want to check out some of the Virginia kayak laws that may apply to you.

We have put together some useful information to help you stay on the right side of the law while boating in Virginia. Whether you’re heading to the coast or exploring the state’s inland waters, it’s important to stay safe.

VA kayak destination guide

Virginia Kayak & Boat Registration Laws

Without A Motor

Do you have to register a kayak in VA? No, you do not need to register a kayak or canoe if it does not have a motor attached. Registration is also not required for other non-motorized vessels and sailboats less than 18 feet long.

However, if you later add a motor to any of these vessels, it will then be considered a motorized vessel and will need to be registered.


Do you have to register a kayak with a motor in VA? Yes. All motorized vessels, regardless of length, need to be registered in Virginia with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. These vessels also need to be titled.

Cost Of Registration

The fee for titling your boat is $10. If you purchased your boat from out of state, you may have to pay additional sales tax which is a minimum of 2% of the gross purchase price.

The cost of registration will vary depending on the length of your boat. For vessels up to 16 feet long the fee is $32. For vessels between 16 and 20 feet, the cost is $36 and from 20 to 40 feet, the fee is $42. The registrations are valid for three years.

How To Register

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You can title and register your vessel online or if you already have the title, you can register your boat at a Department of Motor Vehicles agency.

You need to have the original Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin, with the “First Assignment” completed. If the boat was previously registered in another state you will need to submit the previous registration and if it wasn’t registered by you, you will also need a bill of sale from the previous registered owner.

Once you’ve titled and registered your vessel you will receive your Certificate of Number and your title. Your Certificate of Number card must be carried on board your vessel so that you have it ready for inspection if required.

Your registration numbers must be displayed on your vessel. These should be attached on both sides of your vessel towards the bow. Numbers should be separated from the letters with a space or hyphen. Your validation decals must also be fixed to your boat next to your registration numbers.

Virginia PFD Boating Regulations (Life Jackets/Vests)

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In Virginia you are required to have a US Coast Guard approved PFD (Personal Flotation Device) on board for each person on your vessel. The PFDs must be in a suitable size for the intended wearer, be easily and quickly accessible and be in a serviceable condition.

However, it is recommended that you always wear your life jacket while on board a kayak or small vessel.

Video: Wear It! Life Jacket PSA

On vessels 16 feet in length or more you are also required to have on board a throwable Type IV PFD that is US Coast Guard approved. However, this does not apply to non-motorized kayaks and canoes, even if they are longer than 16 feet.


The majority of waters in Virginia are considered federally controlled waters, so this means you have to follow federal regulations. Under federal law, children under the age of 13 must wear a US Coast Guard approved PFD at all times while on a vessel that is underway, unless they are in a completely enclosed cabin.

> Life jackets for infants

> Life jackets for children

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

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It is against the law in Virginia to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you are found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher then you will be considered to be intoxicated. If you are under the age of 21 and found to have any amount of alcohol in your system you will be considered under the influence.

Penalties can include a $2500 fine, up to a year in jail, a ban on operating a vessel for a year and having to complete the Alcohol Safety Action Program. You can be handed all of these penalties together or any combination of them.

Other Kayak & Boating Laws in Virginia

Do I Need Lights On My Kayak?

Yes, if you are boating between sunset and sunrise you will need to have a white light on board your kayak. This must be readily available so that you can display it in enough time to avoid a collision. A flashlight or a white lantern can be used.

What About Maritime Distress Signals?

Maritime or Visual Distress Signals (VDS) are required by law if you are operating a vessel on coastal waters between the hours of sunset and sunrise. All vessels, regardless of length or propulsion are required by law to carry night signals.

Motorized vessels 16 feet or longer and sailboats 26 feet or longer must also carry day signals.

For kayaks and small vessels, required night signals can include three handheld red flares or an electric distress light. If you require day signals, this can include orange smoke signals or an orange distress flag.

If you’re using pyrotechnic signals, you are required to carry three of each, for example three day and three night signals. If you are using non-pyrotechnic you only need one, for example, one orange flag for day and one electric distress light for night. On a kayak, for example, one electric distress light would suffice.

Sound Producing Devices

In Virginia all vessels, regardless of length or propulsion, are required to carry a sound producing device on board while boating on any waters in Virginia. Sound producing devices must be able to be heard from half a mile away. This can be a horn or a whistle.

For kayaks and other small vessels, a whistle is sufficient.

Minimum Age To Kayak And Boat

There is no minimum age to operate a kayak or other non-motorized vessel in Virginia. A minimum age of 14 applies only to Personal Watercraft (PWC).

However, all operators of vessels with motors of 10 hp or greater are required to have completed a boating safety course. This applies to everyone, regardless of age. The certificate or card that you receive after passing the course is what you must carry with you at all times while operating a motorized boat.

Aquatic Invasive Species

While there is no direct law in place relating to aquatic invasive species, it is advised that you do all you can to prevent the spread of invasive plants and animals.

It is recommended that you clean and rinse your vessel (including propellers and motors) before leaving any body of water, so that your boat is free of any aquatic materials that could be transferred. It can be a good idea to let it air dry before you move it from one body of water to another.

If you’re fishing you should never release unused bait into any body of water and you should make sure you drain your live wells or bilges before you leave.

Wrapping Up

Most rules are in place to help keep you and other boaters safe, and in Virginia this can be even more important because of the direct access to the coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Remember that many of Virginia’s waters fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, so the rules are often enforced by the US Coast Guard or other federal agencies – most notably the child life jacket requirements.

If you think others might find this guide helpful, share it. And let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment.

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