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Canoes and Kayaks

Canoes and kayaks are classified as vessels and must comply with NSW marine legislation. An understanding of the safe boating rules that apply to canoes and kayaks will help paddlers enjoy their sport in safety.

Conflict between canoes and kayaks and power vessels may occur when the available water is restricted, particularly in busy waterways such as Sydney Harbour.


Lifejackets are required to be worn when paddling more than 100 metres from the nearest shore on enclosed waters and at all times on open (ocean) waters.

The operator of the canoe or kayak is responsible to ensure that all persons on board comply.

Other safety equipment is not required, with the exception of a torch, between sunset and sunrise. Additional equipment is recommended for activities such as sea kayaking.

Safety in canoes and kayaks

You're the skipper, you're responsiblePaddle craft are small and sit low in the water, making it difficult for skippers of other vessels to see them in some situations. Take care when operating near other vessels and when crossing channels. It is important to be clearly visible while on the water. Suggested precautions to take:

  • Attach a high visibility flag to your canoe/kayak.
  • Wear highly visible clothing.
  • Paddle in tight formation.
  • Stay close to shore line.
  • Keep to the starboard side of the channel, and
  • Paddle during daylight hours or, if paddling in restricted visibility or between sunset and sunrise, exhibit two all round continuous or flashing white lights, one attached to the canoe or kayak at or near the forward end and the other one attached at or near the aft end. The light is to be visible in clear conditions from a distance of 1km and may be masked so as not to interfere with the vision of the occupants, provided at least one light is visible from any direction.

Paddle craft are lightweight and narrow, resulting in poor stability. Take care when boarding paddle craft, and placing any large or heavy items on board.

Be careful of sudden movement within the craft that may affect stability, as stability is largely dependent on the placement and movement of persons onboard.

Paddle craft are very portable and may be used in diverse areas from busy harbours through to remote inland waterways. Be sure to familiarise yourself with the particular hazards that may be present before embarking on a canoe or kayak trip (see the section on special areas in this handbook).

If you intend paddling in remote areas, tell someone where you are going and when you intend to return. Carry a hand held marine radio or mobile phone in case of emergency.


Paddle Smart diagram