Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Non Motorized Boats

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Paddling is an increasingly popular way for people to enjoy time on the water. Paddle craft, such as kayaks, canoes, rowboats, and stand-up paddle boards are relatively inexpensive, highly portable, and easy for beginners to maneuver. Even though paddle craft do not typically have a motor, they are still considered boats and paddlers need to be familiar with the navigation laws in NYS.


Did you know that in 2021 paddle craft users were involved in 25% of all boating accidents in New York and accounted for 50% of the recreational boating fatalities for the year? One of the best ways to stay safe on the water as a paddler is to always wear your lifejacket. Hidden hazards in the water, inclement weather, and unpredictable currents are as much a danger to paddlers as they are to motorized boaters, and wearing your lifejacket helps protect you and your family in unexpected circumstances. Please note that in New York State, lifejacket wear is required for all boaters under 12 years of age and for all recreational boaters (including paddle craft users) aboard a vessel less than 21 feet in length from November 1-May 1 (cold water months).

All boats - including paddle craft - MUST have one lifejacket for each person on board. Your lifejacket must be:

  • US Coast Guard approved
  • Easily reached in an emergency (readily accessible)
  • Free of fading, rips, or tears
  • The proper size for the intended wearer

Remember that the best place to store your lifejacket is on your body.

There are different styles of lifejackets designed with paddle craft users in mind. These styles feature larger arm holes for greater range of motion, mesh or high back panels for a less bulky fit, and more points of adjustability. Stand up paddleboard users often opt for an inflatable waist belt type PFD (pictured below). For more information on how to choose the right lifejacket, check out this brochure from the US Coast GuardLeaving New York State Parks

Paddling Lifejacket


Required Gear for Paddle Craft

All paddle craft must have:

  • A lifejacket for each person
  • A sound signaling device, such as a whistle
  • A white light, such as a waterproof flashlight, to make yourself visible in fog or darkness.

There are additional equipment carriage requirements for paddle craft equipped with motors. Click here for more information New York State Parks

Be Safe and Be Seen

Some paddle craft, particularly kayaks, sit very low in the water and are difficult for motorized boaters to see. You can stay safe by making sure you are seen and following these tips:

  • Wear brightly colored clothing and lifejacket
  • When possible, paddle close to shore and in shallower waters where large, motorized boats cannot operate. This is especially important in times of restricted visibility, such as nighttime or foggy conditions.
  • Motorized boats operating in the channel often have a hard time seeing paddlers. Be aware of motorized traffic when paddling in the channel. Avoid lingering in channels. When crossing a channel or river, do so as a group behind passing motorized boats. Cross as quickly and directly as possible.
  • If the waterway you are paddling is particularly busy, consider using a safety flag.
  • Consider the use of reflective tape or stickers on your paddles to increase visibility.
Paddling stickers


Request FREE reflective paddle safety stickers by sending a self-addressed, stamped legal size envelope to:

NYS Parks Marine Services Bureau
Safety Stickers
Albany, NY 12238

Be an Environmentally Conscious Paddler

Help stop the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species. Be sure to Clean, Drain and Dry your boat before launching it in a new body of water. Find a boat decontamination station here: NYS Public Boat Launches with Boat Stewards or Decontamination Services ( Leaving New York State Parks

Learn more about Aquatic Invasive Species here: Aquatic Invasive Species Boat Stewards - NYS Dept. of Environmental ConservationLeaving New York State Parks

Frequently Asked Questions about Paddling

1. Do I have to register my canoe/kayak/rowboat/stand up paddleboard?

Paddle craft that utilize manual propulsion (do not have any type of motor attached) DO NOT need to be registered in NY State. However, registration is required in NYS for all mechanically propelled boats. This includes canoes and kayaks with small electric or gas motors. Click the registration tab for more information.

2. Do I need a boating safety certificate for paddle craft operation?

A boating safety certificate is recommended, but not required for manually propelled craft. If your vessel is equipped with a motor, no matter how small, you will need a safe boating certificate. This applies to sail boats with auxiliary motors as well.

Take a Boating Safety Course Leaving New York State Parks

3. Is there a minimum age for a child to operate paddle craft?

There is no minimum age in New York for a child to legally operate a manually propelled boat. Children operating paddle craft should be able to sit up on their own, be able to flip themselves onto their back and float while wearing a lifejacket in the water, be mature enough to remain seated for the duration of the paddle and understand that they should not lean over the sides of the boat. Children under 12 must always wear a US Coast Guard approved life jacket of the proper size when in a boat. Parents should encourage children to practice floating in their lifejacket before heading out onto the water. A child who panics during a capsize can drown if they cannot position their head above water - even while wearing a lifejacket. If the child will be paddling their own kayak, be sure the boat and paddle are properly sized as larger boats will be difficult and frustrating for smaller children to maneuver.

4. Where can I launch my kayak?

You can search for a boat launch site at

You can also download the FREE Parks Explorer App to find information about State Parks with boat launches and kayaking. Learn more:

5. Can I bring my kayak/canoe etc from another state to use in New York? Do I need to do anything special before launching in New York?

There are no special permits or paperwork needed for out-of-state visitors to use their paddle craft in New York. Help us keep New York's waters healthy and stop the spread of invasive species by making sure you clean, drain and dry your vessel before launching into a new body of water. Learn more about Aquatic Invasive Species here: New York State Parks

Other Smart Paddling Tips & resources

Be informed and take a FREE Paddle Sports Safety Course at New York State Parks

Familiarize yourself with paddling tips and best practices from the American Canoe AssociationLeaving New York State Parks