Do You Have to Register an Inflatable Boat or Kayak?

man paddling an inflatable boat on a lake on a cloudy day
Could this inflatable boat need registering? It’s possible.

To me, the idea of registering my inflatable fishing boat initially seemed a bit silly. I mean, it easily fits into the trunk of my car and was pretty cheap, to begin with. Would I need a registration?

So, do you have to register an inflatable boat or kayak? It varies state by state, but some states require registrations for inflatable boats, even those not propelled by mechanically-powered trolling motors. Your state’s DMV will likely handle questions on registrations, but the DNR may have additional requirements when navigating state-owned waters.\

Determining whether or not you need to register your inflatable boat or kayak with your state can be a complicated matter. Each state may have different rules and requirements, and various aspects of your inflatable boat may be important.

How can I tell if I need to register my inflatable boat or kayak?

Before we begin to discuss the state-specific rules for inflatable boat or kayak registration, it’s important to understand how most states determine whether your inflatable needs a registration. Before going any further, know the following pieces of information:

  • The length of your inflatable boat or kayak
  • Whether you use mechanical propellers (including electric trolling moors)
  • If you plan on using your inflatable boat or kayak on DNR owned lands

Obviously, it varies state-by-state, but this information will usually be enough for you to determine whether you need to register your inflatable kayak or boat. Most states consider inflatable boats exempt to boat registration rules if they do not use mechanical propellers such as electric trolling motors.

inflatable boat with two inflatable seats on a boat landing of a lake
Note that this inflatable boat is equipped for mounting a trolling motor to the stern. If I had a trolling motor mounted it may well change the legal status of this inflatable boat.

One caveat to be aware of is that even though the DMV of a state may not require the registration of an inflatable boat, it’s still possible that the DNR may require registration when the inflatable boat is used on state-owned lands such as state parks. So always be sure to check that the waters you bring your inflatable boat to don’t have site-specific regulations that may require you to register your inflatable boat.

Which states require registration of inflatable boats not mechanically propelled?

Here’s a list of states that currently require the registration of inflatable kayaks or boats:

Washington, DC

Residents of the capital city aren’t in luck, as Washington DC requires the registration of all vessels of any length, whether or not they are manually powered or mechanically propelled. The vast majority of inflatable boats and kayaks will probably be registered at there lowest tier; as the boat length, brackets begin at 16 ft long and above. You can check out more information about registering a boat in Washington DC by using this link.

Massachusetts

In the state of Massachusetts inflatable boats that do not use mechanical means of propulsion aren’t required to officially register. However, any inflatable boat that uses an electric trolling motor is going to be required to register as all boats powered by motors that operate on public waterways in the state of Massachusetts need registration.

Ohio

Sorry, Buckeye state residents. There are very few exemptions to the inflatable boat regulations in the state of Ohio. As of 2018, Ohio only doesn’t require the registration of paddleboards, kiteboards, and belly boats. Everything else will require registration and the cost of that registration may vary based on the boat length or the propelling mechanism.

Minnesota

If you have an inflatable boat that uses any kind of motorized propeller, it will need registration in the state of Minnesota. The only time your inflatable boat or kayak will not require registration in Minnesota is if it never uses mechanical propellers and it is under 10 ft in length. Everything else will need to be registered in Minnesota.

Delaware

For the residents of Delaware, all inflatable boats or kayaks will need to be registered with the state. Unlike some other states, Delaware doesn’t offer an exemption for manually propelled boats. Their form has specific sections for boats with vinyl or rubber hull material and inflatable vessels, so there’s no getting out of this one.

Iowa

If you plan on using a trolling motor on your inflatable boat or kayak in Iowa, you’ll need to register it with the state. Regarding inflatable boats and kayaks that won’t use motors, Iowa actually splits out the registration exemptions by inflatable boats and inflatable kayaks. For inflatable kayaks, you’ll only need to register with the state of Iowa if it is greater than 13 feet in length. For inflatable boats, any boat that is longer than 7 feet long will need to be registered. This means that most inflatable boats are likely going to require registration in Iowa, as most are longer than 7 feet.

States with recently changed laws regarding inflatable boats

Illinois

It’s important to note that Illinois used to require the registration of all inflatable boats, but that is no longer the case. As of June 1st, 2018, the state of Illinois no longer requires non-powered watercraft to be registered with the DMV. This change came about from the Boat Registration and Safety Act, which aimed to simplify the Illinois boat registration laws. Note that any inflatable kayaks or boats that plan on using electric motors will still require registration with the state.

How to register an inflatable boat or kayak

Alright, so now that we’ve gone through the states that may require an inflatable boat or kayak to be registered, how would you register it? Like everything else, this is going to be dependent on which state you live in, but it will almost always be run through the DMV for your state. You’ll likely need to know the following things about your inflatable boat or kayak:

  • The vessel length
  • Proof of purchase (if new)
  • Make and model of boat
  • Type of motor used (manually powered vs. electric trolling motor)

Most states will allow you to submit the information either electronically or through the mail, but it’s possible that you might have to visit the DMV to complete the registration of your inflatable boat or kayak. It varies from state to state, but some states will allow for boat registrations for up to 3 years in length, so at least you’ll save some paperwork with that.

picture of an inflatable boat and an inflatable kayak on a boat landing for a lake
Either of these inflatable watercraft may require registration with your state.

The registration fees usually aren’t too expensive although that is definitely a matter of opinion. I think it would be understandable to be a little annoyed at paying $20 a year to register an inflatable boat that might have cost only $150 new, tops.

Contact the DMV or DNR when in doubt

If you have any questions or uncertainties about whether you will need to register your inflatable boat or kayak, it would be a great idea to contact your DMV regardless. They’ll know more about the regulations and will be able to walk you through the entire process.

view from a distance of a small public lake in illinois
Always know who manages the lake you’re on. This small lake is managed by my county, so I would need to know their rules before considering anything.

If you anticipate that you’ll be boating on state lands such as state parks or state-managed fish and game lands, it would be very beneficial for you to understand how your local DNR views inflatable boats and kayaks. It’s possible that you might need to register it if you plan on kayaking or fishing those waters.

Note: The above is a summary of state laws and may or may not be the most current or up to date source on the matter. Always check with your local authorities to ensure your compliance with all laws and regulations. This post should not be taken as legal advice.

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