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 permanentPlease note that this exemption is for kayaks and canoes only. Other low-powered paddle craft do not comply with the exemption requirements.

Safety equipment

Wear a lifejacket

Lifejacket icon

  • 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.

Stay attached

Paddle leash icon

  • Using a paddle leash will help prevent you being separated from your paddle if you capsize.
  • If you capsize, stay with your vessel – it is much easier for rescuers to see, and it enables you to reach for your safety equipment
  • Where possible, travel in a group to maximise your safety

Carry communication

Phone, radio, distress beacon

  • You may need to communicate in an emergency or advise someone of a change of plan, so always carry a mobile phone, flares or a distress beacon.
  • Also, put something on your craft which can identify you – such as a name and phone number. This will help emergency services find you.

Learn about paddle safety equipment

Trip preparation

Check the weather

Sun and cloud

  • Always check the weather before heading out. Be prepared to defer your plans until another day if the winds are too strong and the waves are too big.
  • Wear suitable clothing for the conditions
  • Ensure your craft is fit for purpose and well-maintained

Be seen, be safe

Visibility icon

  • Paddle craft sit low to the water and can be difficult for other boats to see. Make yourself visible by wearing bright clothes and using fluorescent paint on your paddle.
  • Consider fitting a flag to your kayak
  • At night, carry a white light easily visible to approaching vessels

Let someone know before you go

Let someone know

  • Tell someone on land where you are going, your departure point and when you intend to return.
  • If you change your plans, let them know.
  • Give them a description or photo of your craft and details of the number of people on board. This will assist emergency services, should the need arise.

Learn about trip preparation

Safe operation

Keep clear or to the right of vessels

Ship icon

  • Obey the rules of the waterway that you are operating on, be vigilant about your route and avoid shipping lanes
  • Many collisions between vessels result from a lack of understanding of the rules of safe navigation
  • You must always navigate on the right (starboard) side of a river or channel

Keep a good lookout

Eye icon

  • You are responsible for keeping watch as to what is ahead, behind and to either side of you.
  • Look out for other vessels, swimmers and potential danger at all times. And always allow plenty of time and space in which to carry out any manoeuvre.

Know your limits

Paddler near shore

  • Paddle within your limits – and that includes your craft, your experience, the conditions on the day and your level of skills.
  • Be realistic about your fitness and capabilities and save strength for the return journey.
  • 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.

Know how to get back in

Practise techniques

  • Learn how to avoid ending up in the water by using support and bracing techniques. Learn how to use a paddle float and stirrup.
  • For decked kayaks the Eskimo roll is the best and fastest self-rescue.
  • Practice these skills before they are really needed!

Learn about safe operation and what to do in an emergency

Improve your skills

You may like to find a club on the Paddle Australia website, explore the get paddling options on the Paddle Victoria site, and 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.

Prepare to Survive

We encourage all boaters and paddlers to view personal story videos and read expert advice on our Prepare to Survive site.

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