Do you have to Register a Canoe in Michigan ?

Michigan is renowned for its extensive area under the Great Lakes coastline, a vast coverage of rives, and more than 10,000 lakes making it one of the best canoeing destinations in the US. The state is also lenient in its boating rules; no wonder it is the top state for the number of registered vessels in the country.

So what do you need to enjoy all that there is in this beautiful state’s waters? It’s practically simple, understand all the state boating laws, and you’re good to go. So do you need to register a canoe in Michigan ?

In Michigan, non-motorized kayaks and canoes, irrespective of their lengths, are exempt from registration. However, to operate a sailboat in the state’s waters, you should register it. Furthermore, any boat measuring less than 16 feet in length and powered by paddles or oars is exempt from registration.

The beauty of being on the right side of the law is that you don’t have to keep watching over your back as you’re canoeing or kayaking. We intend to have you on that end, so for more illumination on the Michigan boating laws, read on.

Do Canoes Need To Be Registered In Michigan?

Without A Motor

Any boat measuring 16 feet or less should not be registered in Michigan, especially if it is powered by oars and paddles. Also, any non-motorized canoe of any size doesn’t require registration to operate in Michigan.

Lastly, you have to register any human-powered vessel (such as a kayak or canoe) measuring more than 16 feet.

Motorized Vessel

You must register any motorized vessel operating in Michigan waters with the Michigan Department of State. Also, any canoe or kayak with a trolling motor must be registered to operate in Michigan.

In addition, motored vessels measuring more than 20 feet require to be titled in addition to being registered. Note that a boat remains registered three years after registration. Also, all registrations end on 31st March of the third year.

Cost of Registering a Vessel in Michigan

Registration costs of differing boats in Michigan vary primarily depending on the size of your boat. Also, the registration cost of a motorized vessel is different from a non-motorized one.

Registering a non-motorized sailboat in Michigan will cost $9. On the other hand, registering a motorized vessel measuring up to 12 feet will cost $14. This is also the registration cost for motorized canoes and kayaks.

In addition, to register a motorized vessel measuring between 12 feet to 16 feet is $17. A vessel measuring between 16 feet and 21 feet will cost you $42 in registration costs. Lastly, if you’re looking to title your boat, you need to pay an extra $5 in addition to the regular registration costs.

How to register a motorized canoe in Michigan

The Michigan Secretary of State is the body responsible for processing boat and canoe registrations in the state. Hence, to register and pay for your boat registration fees, visit your local Secretary of State office.

You’ll essentially be required to submit the following documents:

  • Application for Michigan Watercraft Title
  • Bill of Sale

In addition, you need to submit a sales receipt as proof that you’ve paid the relevant state taxes. Next, following a successful registration, you’ll be issued with a boat registration number and validation decals.

Ensure you fit the two numbers on either side of your boat’s bow. Also, they should be above the waterline to ensure visibility at all times. The right font of the registration numbers is 3-inch high block letters.

Also, affix your registration decal on the right-hand side of the registration number at a separation distance of at least 3 inches from the number.

Michigan PFD Boating Regulations

All Michigan vessels (motorized or non-motorized) must have US Coast Guard-approved Personal Floatation Devices. There should also be enough PFDs in every craft for every individual aboard the boat. The recommended PFD type is a Type I, Type II, or Type III life jacket.

Michigan State allows canoes and kayaks to have throwable Type IV PFD in place of the wearable kinds we’ve highlighted above. But, even for this PFD, there should be enough for everyone aboard the craft, and this is also the requirement for small boats measuring less than 16 feet.

However, for any craft measuring longer than 16 feet in length, the rule is that they must have a wearable PFD for everyone aboard in addition to a throwable device.

Michigan Boating Regulations for Children

As a general rule, it’s compulsory for children aged six years and below to wear a USGC Type I or Type II PFD while aboard any vessel (motorized or non-motorized).

Michigan Boating Under The Influence (BUI) Laws

Michigan state prohibits running a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or any other drug capable of impairing your judgment. This includes operating a vessel with a 0.08% or more blood/breath alcohol level.

A first-time BUI offense is considered a misdemeanor in Michigan. However, if you are convicted for about three instances in 10 years with a BUI, you’ll be charged with a felony, and the penalty is definitely higher than for a misdemeanor.

Do I Need Lights On My Canoe in Michigan?

As a general rule, during the night, you must carry a lantern or flashlight when operating a non-motorized craft such as a canoe or kayak measuring 26 feet and below in Michigan. This is also the requirement during times of low visibility, such as when there’s fog.

Motorized crafts measuring less than 26 feet in length should have red and green sidelights. In addition, they should also display a white masthead light that is visible from a distance of at least 2 miles.

Do I need Maritime Distress Signals in Michigan?

You need to display Maritime Distress Signals when you’re operating in federally controlled waters such as the Great Lakes. Michigan State is blessed with access to four out of the five Great Lakes. As such, you need Visual Distress Signals (VDS) whenever you are in these waters.

Also, when canoeing in the Great Lakes at night, carry night signals such as flares or an electric distress light. Having night signals is a mandatory requirement for all boats at night but not necessary during the day.

However, while operating a motorized vessel measuring 16 feet and longer, you must carry a day signal. This also applies to all boats measuring above 26 feet, irrespective of whether they are motored or non-motored.

Do I need Sound Producing Devices in Michigan Waters?

Legally, it is not mandatory to carry a sound-producing device when operating a canoe or kayak in Michigan waters. But carrying a whistle or any other sound-producing device when kayaking/canoeing in the Great Lakes is a legal requirement.

Also, all motorized vessels of a length between 16 feet and 26 feet should have a whistle that is audible from about half a mile. But for larger vessels than this length, you need a whistle audible further to a distance of at least a mile.

Minimum Age To Canoe in Michigan

Michigan State has no minimum age requirement to operate a canoe, kayak, or any other human-powered vessel. Also, kids 12 years old and below are allowed to operate a motorized canoe without adult supervision as long as it has a horsepower of less than 6.

Anyone aged below 12 years should obtain a boating safety certificate to run a boat with more than six horsepower. Also, they should be accompanied by an adult. Lastly, kids aged 12 years are barred from operating a boat with more than 35 horsepower.

In addition, individuals born on or after July 1st, 1996, must complete a training course and have a boating safety certificate to run a motorized craft in Michigan.


Canoeing and Kayaking in Michigan must be one of the things you should try out at least once in your life to enjoy this state’s vast array of water bodies. Also, as you’ve found out, the state has quite some lenient rules.

You don’t necessarily have to register a canoe in Michigan if it measures less than 16 feet and it’s human-powered. But, you must register all motorized boats, and if they’re longer than 20, ensure you title them.

Also, you need to be wary of the registration requirements for boats operating in Fed-controlled waters such as in the Great Lakes. In case there’s any clarification you want to make on Michigan canoeing rules, reach out to us; we are here to assist anytime.

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