The Best Kayaking In North Carolina

The Best Kayaking In North Carolina

Kayaking In North Carolina

Abigail ScottByAbigail Scott
Updated on 6/23/2022

Kayak-friendly areas in North Carolina include mountain landscapes, lush woods, wetlands, and coastal beaches. Several waterways make paddling fun for everyone! How does North Carolina kayaking compare to other states?

It is unnecessary to register or license kayaks in North Carolina unless an engine powers a kayak. The NCWRC handles vessel registrations. VDS equipment is required for kayaking in federal waters, and all kayakers must be wearing life jackets. An alcohol level of 0.08 percent is not permitted.

Several stunning lakes and rivers are available for kayaking in North Carolina. Before starting paddling, however, legal regulations need to be followed.

Kayaking In North Carolina

Make sure you are aware of the legal regulations required by your state before you launch your kayak into the sunset. A vessel powered by human power, such as a kayak or a canoe, does not need to be registered. Before kayakers can use motorized or electric kayaks, they must register them. 

North Carolina licenses kayakers the same way. Operators of motorized vessels, in particular, must be at least sixteen years old and have completed a boating safety education course. Whenever a legal officer requests it, they must carry it on their person.

For motorized vessels less than twelve meters long, you will need a white masthead at least one meter higher if you plan on going out onto the water after dark. White masthead lights for longer kayaks should be at least 2.5 meters long.

In case of a collision or emergency, non-motorized vessels must have one operable lamp. Rowing boats and paddleboats should have a portable light. This requirement applies between dusk and dawn.

You may be fined and jailed if your blood alcohol level exceeds 0.08 percent, but the law is more relaxed than in other states. All boats must be equipped with life jackets, which need to be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

There is a beautiful kayaking spot along the Little Tennessee River. There are some areas where the water is so clear that you'll find it hard to believe you're paddling through mountainous waters. 

An exciting fauna and flora can be found in the Lumber River, a swampy river. Furthermore, the shoreline fauna is active in the same way as the aquatic life, such as deer and even alligators. 

The largest of the natural Carolina Bay Lakes, Lake Waccamaw, is a freshwater lake with a shoreline of 14 miles and a variety of aquatic life unique to this region. Kayakers can access the lake via a boat ramp to explore this geological mystery!

Do You Need Permits To Kayak in North Carolina?

Rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and rafts exclusively propelled by oars, paddles, or the river need not be registered in North Carolina. It is nevertheless necessary to register any motorized vessel, including those equipped with electric trolling motors.

Furthermore, anyone buying or selling a motorized vessel or sailboat fourteen feet or longer, or owning a personal watercraft (jet ski), needs to title the boat. Boats without trolling engines, such as kayaks and canoes, are exempt.

A license is not required to use a kayak or canoe in North Carolina. Without an attached motor, a kayak or canoe does not require operator licensure or instruction.

The operator of a motorized PWC of ten horsepower or more must complete a Boating Safety Education course, and the vessel must be legally registered. When using the vessel, Boater Education Cards must always be in the person's possession.

Under the supervision of an adult over 18 who knows how to operate a vessel, a youngster between the ages of fourteen and fifteen may operate a motorized PWC.

The youth must also carry proof of boating safety instruction and personal identification. Motorized personal watercraft is illegal for anyone under the age of fourteen.

How Do You Register Your Kayak In North Carolina?

As formal proof that a vessel belongs to you and that you are allowed to operate it on state waters, the boat registration or license acts as proof.

Online renewal of an existing license or registration of a new boat can be done at a local wildlife services agent or by mail. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) is responsible for vessel registration in North Carolina.

Do You Need Lights On Your Kayak In North Carolina?

For motorized vessels under twelve meters, red and green lights and a white masthead at least one meter high are required. At least 2.5 meters taller, a white masthead light is recommended for vessels between twelve and twenty meters.

At least one operating lamp or illumination must be exhibited momentarily on vessels with less than ten horsepower to prevent an accident. Boats with rowing or paddles should have a light readily available.

Each vessel must be equipped with navigation lights that meet the standards for its size between dusk and dawn.

Signaling Devices For Kayaking In North Carolina

Sounding instruments are not required to be carried on vessels smaller than twelve meters in length in North Carolina. However, a personal flotation device (PFD) can be attached to a sounding device, such as a whistle.

Every vessel must be equipped with night vision distress signals (VDS) approved by the Coast Guard in federally restricted waters. During the day, PWCs are not required to wear visual distress signals, but they must have them at night.

A personal watercraft (PWC) cannot be operated between sunset and daybreak, according to the NCWRC (North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission),

Do You Need Life Jackets To Kayak In North Carolina?

Everyone on board must have a personal flotation device approved by the Coast Guard. All under thirteen must wear Type I or II PFDs unless they are under a deck or in an enclosed cabin.

Flotation devices must be worn by everyone on board or pulled. Each person in a kayak must wear a USCG-approved Type I, II, or III personal flotation device (PFD) that fits correctly and is wearable.

The requirement to carry personal flotation devices does not apply to sailing boards, racing shells, rowing sculls, kayaks, or canoes.

On any vessel, kids under thirteen must wear life jackets unless they are in an enclosed area underneath the deck or a cabin. A throwable flotation device of Type IV approval is required on boats, sixteen feet or longer, and the rule excludes canoes and kayaks that are 16 feet or longer.

Is Alcohol Permitted When Kayaking in North Carolina?

Kayaking could result in a DUI in North Carolina. It is illegal to operate any watercraft, motorized or not, while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.

When kayaking in North Carolina, you can receive a BUI (Boating Under the Influence), the equivalent of a DUI, if you have a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.08 percent.

Safety Tips When Kayaking in North Carolina

In an accident or emergency, a helmet will provide you with considerable protection. What headgear you'll need depends on the paddling you'll be doing. If you're paddling whitewater, you'll need a helmet.

Wearing a brimmed hat is best for paddlers of all skill levels, and it will protect them from harmful sun rays on hot days and maintain their body temperature on chilly days.

I recommend closed-toed shoes, especially those with padded soles. Paddling in chilly water is easy with Neoprene socks and booties. The best shoes to wear in hot weather are old sneakers, swimming shoes, or closed-toed sandals. When you walk, you should ensure your feet are protected as much as possible.

While canoeing and kayaking, consider wearing protective footwear. You could risk being injured by rocks, shells, marine life, or even glass.

It is always good to have fresh water with you in your canoe or kayak, even if you will only be in it for a few minutes. A combination of heat and wind often causes paddlers to become dehydrated.

In addition, even if you aren't aware of it, you will burn a lot of energy, so carry a snack to avoid feeling light-headed.

Purchase a prepackaged first-aid kit in most stores or bring your homemade kit. You can store it on board in a dry box or your dry bag if you have one.

Especially on frigid days when the sun is out, sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm are a good idea. Even if it isn't scorching outside, being out on the water while exposed to the sun has serious health consequences. In addition to protecting your lips from the wind, lip balm will also relieve your discomfort.

What Are Good Kayaking Spots In North Carolina?

Located in Western North Carolina, the Little Tennessee River is a hot spot for bio variety, and the best way to see it might be with a mask and snorkel. It would be easy to imagine you were swimming around a tropical coral reef when you observe the marine life schooling in the crystal clear waters.

From above, most people enjoy rivers by fishing or floating (both good methods), but seeing the river from below reveals colorful fish, freshwater mussels, and even a giant salamander.

There are excellent swamp and eastern hardwood ecosystems along the Lumber River, a wild and scenic river in south-central North Carolina. Canoes can be put-in at twenty-four road crossings, giving you plenty of opportunities to observe various animals such as deer, mink, ducks, and even alligators, which are not common.

In the upper stretches of the river, which are ideal for birdwatchers, you can see the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. There are many other unusual species here, such as pine barrens, treefrogs, river frogs, and gigantic yucca skippers.

In south-central North Carolina, Lake Waccamaw has the name of the baby plants that grow nearby, such as sweet bays and red bays. The lake may have been filled with meteorites, according to some speculation.

Several unique species of flora and animals exist in this region because of the neutralizing effect of the limestone rock on the usually acidic water.

Visit the nearby Green Swamp preserve after kayaking around the lake to see three species of carnivorous plants growing in the beautiful fire-dependent pine savannas.

Where Can You Rent A Kayak In North Carolina?

Charleston, South Carolina. In downtown Beaufort, Beaufort Kayak Tours offers a salt marsh ecological tour at low tide and an informative paddle through the salt marshes. You'll see a sampling of the marine life in our waters by casting a net, and if the weather is nice, they'll stop at a sandbar for a swim.

The dolphin ecology tour introduces visitors to the salt marsh habitat where these magnificent animals live during high tides. The group proceeds into the bigger waters of the Fripp Inlet in search of resident Bottle-nose dolphins and learns about their biology and ecology.

If you've never tried kayaking before, this could be a great way to start! RFRR carries many kayak brands and designs. Spending time on the river is one of the best ways to enjoy it! You can also relax while tubing and do nothing but float.

Many of the chairs have cup holders, cooler tubes, and neck rests. Strengthening your arm, shoulder, and core is fun and challenging, and this is particularly thrilling for experienced kayakers.

Is a full moon your favorite sight? As the moon rises on the river, being one with nature on the boat is an unforgettable experience. Rocky Forest River Run offers evening tours to enjoy the moonlight and stars at your leisure.


After completing North Carolina's kayaking prerequisites, it's time to hit the water. Jump in your kayak and explore North Carolina's rivers, streams, sounds, and waterways!

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