Best Places To Kayak In North Carolina

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North Carolina features a broad selection of suitable areas for kayaking, including mountain landscapes, lush woods, wetlands, and coastal beaches. The waterways are diverse enough that the whole family may enjoy paddling! So, what’s it like kayaking in North Carolina?

Kayaking in North Carolina does not require kayak registration or licensure unless the kayak is engine-powered. Vessel registrations are handled by the NCWRC. Kayaking in federal waters requires VDS equipment, and all kayakers must have a life jacket.  Alcohol levels may not exceed 0.08 percent.

North Carolina has many beautiful lakes, rivers, and other spectacular kayaking destinations. However, there are legal regulations that need to be adhered to before starting paddling.

Kayaking In North Carolina

Before you launch your kayak and paddle into the sunset, you should be wary of the legal regulations required by the state. Vessels such as kayaks and canoes powered by human strength do not need to be registered. However, motorized or electric kayaks must be registered before kayakers can utilize them.  

The same is true for the licensure regarding kayaking in North Carolina. Motorized vessels, in particular, can only be operated by those sixteen years and older and who have completed a Boating Safety Education Course.  They need to keep this on their person at all times and be ready to present it to a legal officer when requested.

If you plan on going out onto the water for an evening paddle, remember that you are required to have sidelights, and a white masthead at least one meter higher is required for motorized vessels less than twelve meters long. Kayaks that are longer should have a white masthead light of at least 2.5 meters.

For non-motorized vessels, you should have at least one operable lamp in case of collision or emergencies. A portable light should be readily available in a row or paddleboat. All these requirements apply between dusk and morning.

Alcoholic beverage laws are more relaxed than in other states but don’t allow your blood alcohol levels to exceed 0.08 percent, or you may be fined and jailed. Life jackets need to be equipped at all times, and they have to be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Little Tennessee River is a beautiful kayaking spot.  In some areas, the waters are so clear you’ll find it hard to believe you’re paddling through mountainous waters.  

The Lumber River is a swamp river that boasts various kinds of exciting fauna and flora. Furthermore, the fauna along the shore are similarly active to the aquatic life, such as deer and even alligators.  

Lake Waccamaw, the largest of the natural Carolina Bay Lakes,is a freshwater lake with a shoreline of 14 miles and many species of aquatic life unique to this area. A boat ramp allows kayakers to access the lake to explore this geological mystery!

Do You Need Permits To Kayak North Carolina?

In North Carolina, rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and rafts exclusively propelled by oars, paddles, or the river do not require registration. Any motorized vessel, including those equipped with electric trolling motors, must, nevertheless, be registered.

Additionally, anybody who buys or sells a motorized vessel or sailboat fourteen feet or longer, or owns a personal watercraft (jet ski), must title the boat. Kayaks and canoes without trolling engines are exempt from this requirement.

In North Carolina, using a kayak or canoe does not require a license. Operator licensure and instruction are unnecessary for kayaks and canoes that do not have an attached motor.

If the vessel is legally registered and the operator has completed a Boating Safety Education Course, anybody sixteen years or older may operate a motorized PWC of ten horsepower or more significant. During the vessel’s usage, the Boater Education Card must be available with the person at all times.

Youngsters between the ages of fourteen and fifteen may operate a motorized PWC under the supervision of any person who is at least eighteen years old and knows how to use a vessel.

In addition, the youth must have a personal identity and proof of boating safety instruction on them. It is illegal for anybody under the age of fourteen to use a motorized PWC.

How Do You Register Your Kayak In North Carolina?

Your boat registration or license acts as formal proof that a vessel is yours and that you have permission to operate it in state waters.

Registered a new boat by mail or in person at a local wildlife services agent, or an existing license can be renewed online. In North Carolina, vessel registration is handled by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC).

Do You Need Lights On Your Kayak In North Carolina?

Red lights and green sidelights, and a white masthead at least one-meter higher are required for motorized vessels less than twelve meters long. Vessels between twelve and twenty meters should have a white masthead light at least 2.5 meters taller.

Vessels with less than ten horsepower must have at least one operable lamp or illumination that can be exhibited momentarily in enough time to avoid an accident. A portable light should be readily available in a row or paddle boats.

Between dusk and morning, all vessels shall have navigation lights that fulfill the standards for their size.

Signaling Devices For Kayaking In North Carolina

In North Carolina, vessels smaller than twelve meters in length are exempt from carrying a sounding instrument. They might, however, be given a sounding device, such as a whistle linked to a personal flotation device (PFD).

All vessels operating in federally restricted waters must carry U.S. Coast Guard-approved night visual distress signal (VDS) equipment. PWCs must have visual distress signals at night, although they are not obliged to have VDS during the day.

According to the NCWRC (the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission), the law does not allow you to operate a personal watercraft (PWC) between sunset and daybreak,

Do You Need Life Jackets To Kayak In North Carolina?

Each person on board must have a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device of Type I, II, or III. Unless children are under the deck or in an enclosed cabin, all persons under thirteen must wear a Type I or II PFD.

Every person on board or pulled must have a Type I, II, or III personal flotation device. They must have at least one USCG-approved Type I, II, or III personal flotation device (PFD) that is wearable and is the correct size for all people on the kayak.

Sailing boards, racing shells, rowing sculls, racing kayaks, and racing canoes are exempt from the requirement to carry personal flotation devices.

All kids under thirteen must wear life jackets when on any vessel unless they are in an enclosed location beneath the deck or a cabin. A USCG–approved Type IV throwable flotation device is required onboard boats sixteen feet and longer. Canoes and kayaks with a length of sixteen feet or more are excluded.

Is Alcohol Permitted When Kayaking in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, you could acquire a DUI while kayaking. Any person operating a watercraft of any type, whether motorized or not, while intoxicated by alcohol or narcotics is illegal.

If you have a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.08 percent, you can be issued with a BUI (Boating Under the Influence), the equivalent of a DUI, while kayaking in North Carolina

Safety Tips When Kayaking in North Carolina

A helmet can offer you a lot of protection in case of an accident or emergency. What kind of headgear you’ll need will depend on the paddling you’ll be undertaking. Paddlers on whitewater must use an authorized helmet.

Paddlers of all skill levels should always wear a brimmed hat. It will protect them from the sun’s harmful rays on hot days, and on chilly days, it will help them maintain body heat.

Suitable shoes, particularly those with closed-toes, are the best option. Neoprene socks and booties are ideal for paddling in chilly water. Old sneakers, swimming shoes, or closed-toe sandals are perfect in hot weather. In any event, you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing excellent foot protection for times when you want to walk.

Consider wearing protective footwear when canoeing and kayaking; you could run the risk of being injured by rocks, shells, marine life, and even glass.

Even if you’re going to be in your canoe or kayak for a few minutes, you should always have a full bottle of fresh water with you. Paddlers frequently become dehydrated due to the combined effects of the heat and wind on the body.

Also, even if you don’t know it, you’ll be burning a lot of energy, so carry a snack to avoid being light-headed from hunger.

Bring a home-made first aid kit or purchase one that comes pre-packaged in most stores. It may be kept in your dry bag or, if you have one, in a dry box onboard.

Sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm are a good idea, especially on frigid days when the sun is out. Even when the weather isn’t scorching, exposure to the sun while out on the water can have severe consequences for your health. The lip balm will also protect you from the wind, which can cause unnecessary discomfort.

What Are Good Kayaking Spots In North Carolina?

The Little Tennessee River, a treasure in the heart of Western North Carolina, is a hotspot for bio variety, and the best way to observe it might be with a mask and snorkel. When you gaze upon the marine life schooling in the crystal clear waters, you could believe you’re swimming around a tropical coral reef.

Most people enjoy rivers from above by fishing or floating (both good ways to enjoy this river), but seeing it from below shows a whole other world of colorful fish, freshwater mussels, and even a giant salamander known as a hellbender.

The Lumber River, which is a wild and scenic river in south-central North Carolina, has excellent swamp and eastern hardwood ecosystems. There are twenty-four canoe put-ins at road crossings, providing plenty of opportunities to witness various species such as deer, mink, ducks, and even alligators, which are uncommon at this latitude.

The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker may be seen in the top stretch of the river, which is ideal for birders. Many additional unusual species, such as the pine barrens, treefrog, river frog, and gigantic yucca skipper, may be found here.

Lake Waccamaw is a big Carolina bay in southern North Carolina that gets its name from the bay plants that grow nearby, such as sweet bay and red bay. Meteorites, according to some, may have fallen into this lake.

Because the limestone rock in the region neutralizes the usually acidic water, many unique flora and animals may be found here, partly because it provides adequate habitat.

After a kayak around the lake, stop into the neighboring Green Swamp preserve to witness three species of carnivorous plants growing in the lovely fire-dependent pine savannas.

Where Can You Rent A Kayak In North Carolina?

Beaufort, South Carolina. At low tide in the downtown Beaufort area, Beaufort Kayak Tours offers a salt marsh ecological tour, an informative trek through the salt marsh. They’ll cast a net to show you a sampling of the marine species that dwell in our seas, and if the weather is mild, they’ll stop at a sandbar for a swim.

Their dolphin ecology trip takes visitors on a high-tide tour of the salt marsh, providing an introduction to the habitat that sustains these magnificent marine creatures. They next proceed into the bigger waters of the Fripp Inlet in search of resident Bottle-nose dolphins and learn about their biology and ecology.

Rocky Forest River Run, Elkin, NC. If you’ve never tried kayaking before, your first excursion could start to a beautiful beginning! RFRR offers a variety of kayak brands and designs. It’s one of the most enjoyable ways to spend time on the river! Tubing is also great for people who want to relax and do nothing but float.

They provide a variety of sizes, most of which have neck rests, cup holders, and cooler tubes. It’s a fun and demanding approach to building arm, shoulder, and core strength. Kayakers with prior experience will find this both challenging and thrilling.

Do you adore the sight of a full moon? Being on the boat as the moon rises and being one with nature on the river is incredible. Rocky Forest River Run offers evening tours where you can enjoy the moonlight and stars at your leisure.


It’s time to get paddling out on the water once you’ve completed the legal prerequisites for kayaking in North Carolina. In North Carolina, there are plenty of rivers, streams, sounds, and waterways to paddle, so jump in your kayak and go exploring!