Paddle craft

Paddle craft are vessels such as canoes, kayaks, row boats, surf skis and stand up paddle boards.

Learn what safety gear you need for different paddle craft and waterways, and how to get set for an enjoyable trip so you come home safely.

Licensing and registration

You are only required to hold a marine licence and register your vessel with VicRoads if the vessel is fitted with a means of propulsion.

Low-powered kayak and canoe exemption

Paddlers of certain low-powered kayaks and canoes are permanently exempt from licensing and registration rules in Victoria from 1 July 2020. Read more: Exemption for low-powered kayaks and canoes now permanent

Safety equipment

You must wear a lifejacket when paddling craft such as a kayak, canoe, surf ski, raft or row boat. You'll also need a way to remove water from your vessel.

There are extra requirements if your craft is motorised, or if you're heading more than 2 nautical miles offshore.

Learn about Paddle safety equipment

Trip preparation

Learn how to Prepare to Survive:

  1. Wear a lifejacket
  2. Lock in a buddy plan
  3. Carry a distress beacon
  4. Practise getting back on
  5. Know the weather

Avoid an emergency: Learn support and bracing strokes to help keep you upright. If you end up in the water, stay with your craft – it is much easier for rescuers to see, and it enables you to reach for your safety equipment.

Read more about what to do in an emergency.

Safe operation

Paddlers should:

  • Wear suitable clothing for the conditions
  • Obey the rules of the waterway that you are operating on, be vigilant about your route and avoid shipping lanes
  • Make sure you know what to do in an emergency
  • If you capsize, stay with your vessel - it is much easier to spot in the water than a person
  • At night, carry a white light easily visible to approaching vessels
  • Where possible, travel in a group to maximise your safety.

If the vessel is a decked canoe or kayak or is otherwise fitted with individual cockpits, the number of persons carried on the vessel must not exceed the number of individual cockpits in the vessel, irrespective of the age of the person.

Read our safe operation information to learn more.

Improve your skills

You may like to find a club on the Paddle Australia website, and you can view our paddle safety videos on YouTube.

Sea kayaking

Sea kayaking is a magnificent recreation that can take you to many wild and pristine places along our coast. However, paddling a small craft involves risks that may prevent return to shore.

Conditions change quickly at sea and your training and equipment are your greatest aids to survival. We have worked with the Victorian Sea Kayak Club to produce a brochure on safe sea kayaking.

Download the brochure as a PDF or accessible Word document

Safety reminders

You can download our paddling safety advice as a PDF or accessible Word document:

We've also produced a flyer for recording your trip details to leave with a friend or relative. The flyer has a shiny surface – so it's reusable if you write on it with a water-based marker that can be easily wiped off.

If you would like us to send you an "I've gone paddling" flyer – and a Paddle Safe Paddle Smart brochure – email your name and full postal address to education@transportsafety.vic.gov.au.

Was this page helpful?

Thank you, your feedback is valuable to us.