Paddling in Pennsylvania
by Stephen Miller

Before taking to the water in Pennsylvania, it is necessary to be aware of the boating regulations and the boat registration and equipment requirements defined within.

I have provided an overview of the requirements, but it is what it is… an overview, so be sure to check out the "PA Boating Handbook" for full registration requirements and regulations. An online version is located at


Unpowered boats, such as canoes and kayaks, are not required to be registered in Pennsylvania. However, registering your canoe or kayak allows it to be used at a Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) access areas or lakes, or at Pennsylvania State Park lakes. Registration paperwork needs to be carried while paddling a registered canoe or kayak.

Another option which allows use of PFBC access areas and lakes and Pennsylvania State Park lakes and launching areas is a Use Permit from the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, or a Launch or Mooring Permit from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Bureau of State Parks.

While paddling the waters within this book, I regularly run into Waterway Conservation Officers (WCOs) and/or Park Rangers. The fines are steep for a non-registered vessel, so I don’t recommend cheating.

Required Equipment

As with the registration, I recommend you have the required equipment stipulated in the boater’s handbook with you, otherwise a meeting with a WCO or Park Ranger could make for an expensive outing.

Listed below are the minimum equipment requirements:

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

A U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable PFD (life jacket) is required for each person and must be easily reached in an emergency.

Children 12 years of age and younger must wear an approved PFD while in all canoes and kayaks.


Operators of canoes and kayaks are required to have a handheld light that can be easily accessed and waved to attract attention to avoid collision at night. Also it’s a good idea to have one in case you get back to the launch in the dark.

Sound-Producing Devices

Operators of canoes and kayaks must a readily accessible means of making an oral or mechanical sound signal that can be heard by another boat operator in time to avoid a collision. A whistle or air horn is adequate. I always carry a whistle attached to my PFD for easy access.

Recommended Equipment

Here are a few items that are recommended:

Extra oars or paddles

They are helpful to get back to shore.


A good-quality nylon line is an essential piece of equipment for boaters. All boaters on rivers with locks should carry a mooring line at least 75 feet long.

Bailing device

All boats should have on board some kind of bailer to remove water from the boat. I carry a sponge and a pump.

Cell phone

A cell phone is an excellent way to call for help.

Boating maps or charts

These items are useful for planning outings. They can help boaters avoid problems.

Other useful items

Sunscreen, flashlight, visual distress signals (required on Lake Erie), compass, throw (rescue) bag, knife, first aid kit.

Again for full PA Fish and Boat Commission's regulations check out the PA Boating Handbook at --