Legal Information Kayakers Should KnowThis information is a culmination of information from many members, and should not be taken as a definitive guide.
What's Required of YouThere are not a whole lot of restrictions regarding kayaking
- PFD: You are required to have a PFD for every person on your boat. You are not required to wear it, but it's a good idea in cool weather, and almost a necessity in whitewater.
- Whistle: You are required to have a sounding device of some sort. The easiest is to clip a whislte to the zipper on your PFD, but note that the whistle must be readily available even if you're not wearing your PFD.
- Flashlight: If you're out after sunset, you're required to have a flashlight on hand that can illuminate your boat. The time used for sunset and sunrise is that published by the US Naval Observatory, and corresponds to when the Sun is below the horizon. So, even during twilight you will need a light even if you can easily see.
Note that since navigable water ways generally fall under federal laws, it's the federal maritime laws that are usually in force. It's not easy to determine when state laws take over, but fortunately the laws that kayakers are commonly concerned with are essentially exactly the same at the federal and state levels.
US Coast Guard
USCG Rule 25(d)(II):
301 KAR 6:020 Section 2(b)(1):
Indiana Roster of navigable waterways:
Navigable Waterways Roster
Your Rights and Privileges
The US Supreme Court has ruled that navigable waterways which can be used for insterstate commerce fall under federal juristiction and must be held in the public trust by the state. Exactly what that means isn't easy to define without a lot of reading. American Whitewater has put together a somewhat comprehensive guide together, and is far more than any human would want to read. I'll sumarize a few key points below, but check other sources for more detailed information.
- You are permitted to use the river, the riverbed and banks for non-destructive use up to the mean high water mark. This includes fishing, camping, swimming, wading, etc (even building campfires).
- The mean high water mark is defined as the highest point water reaches in a typical year. This is usually where you start to see large trees.
- You are not entitled access to the river, only use of it once you're there.
- Navigable is not well defined. There is no set of rules to apply to determine if a body of water is navigable. Just because you can float a boat in it doesn't make it navigable, nor does the complete lack of water over many years make it not navigable.
- The best way for you to determine if a river is navigable, or otherwise designated for public use, is if other people are using it, it's probably safe for you to use it to.