Kayaking Laws In Tennessee [Rules and Regulations Every Kayaker..]

With more than 50,000 miles of streams, rivers, and lakes, it’s no wonder Tennessee is so popular for kayakers, canoes, and other water activities. Whether you’re an experienced or inexperienced kayaker, it’s important to be aware of the kayaking laws in Tennessee to make sure you’re abiding by them.

Kayaking Laws In Tennessee Summary

Tennessee has a set of rules and regulations for anyone using personal watercraft (PWC)

Failure to abide by the rules can result in fines, imprisonment, and criminal records. Before heading out on the water this spring and summer, it’s important to be familiar with the rules of the water.

These laws vary from:

  • Registration, Permits, and licensing
  • Lifejackets and Wearables
  • Sounding devices
  • Navigation Lights
  • Disposing of litter in the water
  • Fire Extinguisher laws
  • Etc…

So let’s get into the kayaking rules!

Not a Lawyer Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, nor do I claim to be your lawyer. This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be taken as legal advice. If you have any questions or concerns regarding any laws in N.C. or any other state for that matter, consult a competent licensed attorney in your state!

Tennessee Kayaking Laws

The kayaking laws are governed and enforced by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) Officers. These authorities patrol the waters to ensure the safety of everyone on the water.

They have the authority to stop any vessel and issue citations for violating any of the following rules below.

Tennessee Age and Operator Restrictions & Permits


Do I have to have a license to operate a kayak in Tennessee? Those born after January 1, 1989, must have a Boater Education Certificate issued by the TWRA in their possession to operate any vessel.

Failure to do so can result in expensive fines.

At the time of this writing, the Boat Ed Course fee is $34.95.


Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in Tennesse? Yes, anyone less than 12 years of age or born after January 1, 1989, must have a Boater Education Certificat issued by the TWRA, or be accompanied by someone 18 years or older to operate a motorized vessel of 8.5 or more.


Those 12 years old or younger cannot operate any type of personal watercraft unless accompanied by an adult.

Tennessee BUI (Boating Under the Influence) Laws

Can you get a DUI while kayaking in Tennessee? Yes, Tennessee has an updated BUI law that mirrors the penalties of their DUI laws. Anyone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 will be considered under the influence.

The new law states that all convicted offenders will serve no less than 48 hours of jail time. Subsequent convictions will result in a minimum of 25, 65, or 150 days of incarceration.

Under the new updated Tennessee BUI laws, effective July 1, 2021. The new law allows anyone to be charged with vehicular assault or vehicular manslaughter, in cases that result in fatalities due to alcohol or drug impairment.

It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to be in possession of alcohol.

Personal Watercraft (PWC) Life Jacket Law

Do you need to wear a life jacket while kayaking in Tennessee? Yes, all vessels and above must have at least one Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III, or wearable Type V for every person on board.

I addition, vessels 16 feet and above must have one USCG-approved throwable (Type IV) device available.


Adults are not required to wear one while kayaking but must have one accessible in case of an emergency.


Anyone 13 years and younger must wear a proper fitting, fastened Coast Guard Approved PFD at all times while underway.

According to the Tennessee Paddlesport Laws drifting on a kayak is considered underway.

Tennessee Water Vessel Registration Laws


Do you have to register a kayak in Tennessee? No, vessels that are propelled by oars are exempt from registration.


Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor? Yes, all mechanically powered vessels (including kayaks with trolling motors and sailboats) need to be registered in Tennessee.

Sailboats relocated from states that do not require the numbering of sailboats are exempt from registration unless it is only used in Tennessee.

To register a new boat, you must complete a certified Application for Boat Certificat of Number that can be acquired at your local county clerk’s office. Use this locator to find the office nearest you.

Tennessee Kayaking Sound Devices Law

Do you have to carry a whistle while kayaking in Tennessee? Yes, PWC’s less than 39.4 must have the ability to make an efficient sound, which includes devices such as a horn, bell, or whistle.

Unlike other states such as Georgia, Tennessee exempts paddle craft users from carrying visual distress signals (VDS) on federally controlled waters.

Tennessee Navigation Rules

In accordance with the Inland Navigation Rules Act of 1980, non-motorized vessels (including sailboats) have the right way. The United States Coast Guard classifies human-powered vessels as crafts as “vessels under oars.”

That said, kayakers should be aware of the Uniform Waterways System Laws, which are similar to the rules of the road.

Motorized Nighttime

Water vessels less than 39.4 feet in length must use a single while light such as a lantern or flashlight that is visible by other vessels.

Daytime Navigation

All paddle vessels must use white light or lantern in poor visibility or after sunset to prevent collisions.

Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do you have to carry a fire extinguisher while kayaking in Tennessee?

Tennessee Aquatic Nuisance Species Laws

Paddlecraft boats are exposed to several non-native species and etc that can be harmful to different water environments.

The state of Tennessee asks you to work together to protect the waterways and the native species that live there.

Tennessee Litter Laws

Is it illegal to litter from a kayak? Yes, kayakers can not throw, any type of waste in any body of water. If your kayak tips, you must retrieve all the contents.

Failure to do so can result in fines, imprisonment, and expensive legal fees.

Reckless Operation Laws in Tennessee

Is there such a thing as reckless endangerment on a kayak in Tennessee? Yes, anyone who interferes with the safe operation of any non-motorized or motorized vessel is subject to prosecution.

Kayaking With a Dog In Tennessee

Can I kayak with a dog in Tennessee? Yes, as long as the state park, or kayak outfitter allows dogs in the kayak. The state of Tennessee has not implemented any laws regarding dogs in kayaks.

However, it is recommended to use a life jacket for young, old, and dogs that are not strong swimmers.

Transporting a Kayak In Tennessee Regulations

How far can my kayak hang out of my truck bed in Tennessee? Tennessee has implemented laws prohibiting overhang limits of more than 3 feet in the front and 4 feet in the rear.

Additional Kayaking Resources

The Handbook of Tennessee Boating Laws and Responsibilities PDF

Kayaking Fishing Laws in Tennessee

Anyone fishing from a kayak will be expected to adhere to the following rules. In addition, the state has set regulations and laws geared towards anglers.

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