Kayaking and canoeing

It's especially important to consider safety before using a kayak, canoe or a similar unpowered vessel. These craft sit quite low in the water and are susceptible to risks such as capsizing, blowing off course, taking on water and reduced visibility to other vessels.

Before operating unpowered vessels of any kind you should always check safety equipment and stock it with other necessary provisions such as water, snacks, sunscreen, etc depending on the area of operation and anticipated period of your trip.

As the paddler of your craft you are responsible for your safety and the safety of any other people on the vessel.

Kyacks and canoes safety reference guide cover

The information below will help you stay safe. It is taken from the Kayaks and canoes safety reference guide 1.2 MB.

The guide, a kayak and canoe safety equipment sticker and a Paddle Safe DVD is available from:

The Boating Safety Unit
13 Kateena Street
Regency Park
1300 183 046

Although several links refer to motorised boats they still provide helpful hints that you may apply to being safe on your vessel.

Plan your trip

  • check the weather and tide information with the Bureau of Meteorology or call 8366 2600 for further information before you go out and be prepared to cancel your trip if necessary
  • ensure your vessel is suitable for your intended area of operation. Vessels designed for use on inland or sheltered waters are not usually suited to open waters or along the coast, where waves are larger. Sea going vessels may be just as suitable for use in a river or lake
  • check your vessel for leaks and damage and general seaworthiness before each trip. It is dangerous to go out in an unseaworthy boat
  • Make sure you tell someone where you will be departing from, the route you plan to take and your estimated time of return - this information will assist in your rescue if needed
  • wear the correct personal flotation device for the location you are paddling in
  • if travelling solo be attentive and keep a proper lookout; be aware of hazards and changing conditions
  • always carry a means of communication
  • attach reflective tape to the vessel and paddles to increase visibility
  • keep a buoyant, waterproof torch in your safety kit - this is essential when travelling between the hours of sunset and sunrise.

Staying safe during the journey

  • travel in a group where possible to maximise safety
  • wear brightly coloured clothing to ensure you are visible to other water users and make sure your clothing is appropriate for the conditions and location you are paddling in
  • make sure your skills and fitness level are adequate for the area and the conditions you are paddling in
  • read the information on abandoning the boat, and know what to do, should you have a boating accident and your kayak or canoe is damaged or you capsize and cannot get back into the vessel.

Safety equipment

Safety equipment requirements apply to kayaks and canoes and it is important that you are carrying suitable safety equipment for your area of operation. A correctly fitted personal flotation device (PFD) must be worn by each person on the vessel.

Information on types of PFD and other safety equipment is available on marine safety equipment web page.

Navigation rules

The International boating rules apply to kayak and canoe paddlers.

Big ships, little vessels

All operators of vessels need to be aware of the risks associated with different types of vessels using the water at the same time and safe boating near commercial vessels.

Alcohol and drugs

It is an offence to operate a vessel (powered or unpowered) and to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05 or more or to be under the influence of drugs. Know the rules that apply to alcohol, drugs and boating.


Hypothermia is the effect of heat loss from the body and immersion in cold water causes the body to lose heat up to 25 times faster than normal.

Paddlers have a greater exposure to the elements and boating in cooler weather increases the risk of developing hypothermia from wind-chill, capsizing or damp and wet clothes.

Sudden immersion in cold water can be life threatening especially to people who are older, unfit or under stress from being in the water.

Accidents and incidents

If your vessel is involved in an incident or you witness an incident you have a legal obligation to stop and provide assistance. Where additional assistance is required and you have a mobile phone with you, dial 000 to alert the appropriate authority.

If you are involved in an accident that results in death, or injury requiring medical attention to any person, or damage to property exceeding $300, you must report the matter to a police officer nearest the place of the accident/incident or a Marine Safety Officer on 8260 0220 within 48 hours of the accident or incident.

A vessel accident report 319.1 KB can be downloaded and more information is available about reporting boat incidents.

Reporting incidents

If you observe or experience careless or dangerous operation of a vessel you can report the matter to the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) Marine Operations and Response on 8260 0220 or email the Boating Safety Unit. Make a note of any identifying numbers or other useful information.

Safe loading

Overloading your craft seriously reduces stability making your vessel more likely to capsize. Follow the manufacturer's guide for the recommended weight capacity and the number of people your vessel is designed for and stow all items securely.

Sea kayaks

Sea kayaking is a complex activity in a demanding environment. We strongly suggest that you take instruction from qualified instructors, and that you always paddle as a group.

Kayakers, canoeists and people using any kind of unpowered vessel are advised to remain with their craft if they capsize so they can be seen more easily by search crews.

Kayaks and canoes fitted with a motor

An unpowered or human-powered vessel fitted with any type of engine or motor must be registered, the operator hold a boat operator's licence, registration number displayed and appropriate safety equipment carried.

Exemption for kayaks and canoes fitted with electric motor of not more than 150 newtons

Exemptions from the registration, boat licence and carriage of specified safety equipment requirements for vessels fitted with an engine may be granted by the Chief Executive (CE), Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) for kayaks and canoes fitted with an electric motor of not more than 150 newtons (33.7lb thrust).

The granting of exemption from registration may be granted by the CE DPTI provided;

  • the kayak or canoe is fitted with an electric motor of not more than 150 newtons (33.7lb thrust)
  • the kayak or canoe and electric motor is maintained to the original manufacturer’s specifications and design capabilities
  • the power source for the electric motor is a marine grade closed cell 12 volt battery

A condition to the granting of the exemptions is that the kayak or canoe must be equipped with the safety equipment specified for a kayak, canoe, rowboat or similar small human-powered vessel and a correctly fitted lifejacket, is worn by each person in the kayak or canoe.

It is the obligation of the owner of a kayak or canoe to apply for an owner exemption from the registration  240.0 KBrequirements, and exemptions from the boat licence and safety equipment requirements that apply when operating the kayak or canoe.

A person (not being the owner) who wishes to operate a kayak or canoe that has been granted operator exemption from the registration 289.1 KB requirements and has the approval of the owner of the exempted kayak or canoe, may apply for exemptions from the boat licence and safety equipment requirements that apply when operating the exempted kayak or canoe.

Subject to approval by the CE DPTI, a Notice of Exemption with the conditions that apply to the granting of these exemptions will be issued to each applicant.

The exemption is valid for 12 months and it is the obligation of the owner and operator to apply for re-issue of the exemption.

Note: Some motor manufacturers badge the 150 newtons motor as 34lb thrust which is accepted as meeting the maximum of 33.7lb thrust criteria.

Owner of a kayak or canoe

This applies to an owner of a kayak/canoe who also operates the kayak/canoe.

To apply for exemption, the kayak/canoe owner must complete the Application for exemptions owner of a kayak/canoe fitted with an electric motor 240.0 KB and lodge the application, with supporting documents listed on the application form, to the address shown on the application for consideration by the CE DPTI.

Operator of an exempted kayak or canoe who is not the owner

If you  wish to operate a kayak/canoe granted exemption from registration, you must complete the Application for exemptions operator of a kayak/canoe fitted with an electric motor 289.1 KB and lodge the application, with supporting documents listed on the application, to the address shown on the application for consideration by the CE DPTI.

Subject to approval by the CE DPTI, a Notice of Exemption with the conditions that apply to the granting of these exemptions will be issued to each applicant.

Further information is available from DPTI, Boating Safety Unit, by telephoning 1300 183 046 or by e-mail  to

Related information

On this site

Alcohol, drugs and boating
Anchoring in channels
Being safe on your boat
Boat capacity
Boating speed restrictions and limits
Personal watercraft
Riverbank collapse
Safe boating near commercial vessels
The dangers of carbon monoxide
Unseaworthy boats
Whales and dolphins
South Australia Recreational Boating Safety Handbook

Other sites

Marine news
Canoe South Australia (Canoe SA)
Canoe SA offers courses for Australian Canoeing awards from entry level to instructor qualifications.

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Page last updated: 29 August 2016