TexasKayakFisherman.com est. 2000

Kayak fishing the Lone Star State...


#2309216
The following are minimal safety requirements for manually-propelled vessels in Texas. I've broken it down between freshwater (lakes and rivers), coastal waters (bays), and gulf waters (BTB); where applicable. I've also included citation sources within the Texas Water Safety Act and the Code of Federal Regulations for each bullet point.

If you have any comments/questions please post up.

PFD (aka Lifevest) Requirements:
  • You must have a Type I, II, III, or V PFD for each person on the kayak [TWSA Title 4 § 31.066(a)][CFR Title 33 § 175.15(a)(1)]
  • Children under the age of 13 must always wear their PFD [TWSA Title 4 § 31.066(e)][CFR Title 33 § 175.15(c)(1)]
  • PFDs must be used in accordance with the manufacturer's label to be legal [CFR Title 33 § 175.15(a)(2)]
  • Type IV throwable PFDs are not required [CFR Title 33 § 175.75(a)]
  • Inflatable PFDs may only be worn by persons who are at least 16 years of age and weigh more than 80 pounds[CFR Title 46 § 160.076-23 (UL 1180)]
  • All PFDs must be in good, serviceable condition without any cuts, tears, rotten material, etc [CFR Title 33 § 175.23]
  • All PFDs must fit each person properly [CFR Title 33 § 175.21(b)]
  • Each PFD must be readily accessible to each person [CFR Title 33 § 175.19(a)]

Distress Signaling Devices - Audible & Visual:
  • On freshwater you are not required to have an audible signaling device [TWSA Title 4 § 31.073(a)]
  • On coastal & gulf waters you must have an audible signaling device capable of making efficient sound [CFR Title 33 § 83.33(b)]
  • On freshwater you are not required to have visual distress signaling devices (VDS) [TWSA Title 4 § 31.073(a)]
  • On coastal & gulf waters you are required to have visual distress signaling (VDS) devices suitable for night use between sunset and sunrise [TWSA Title 4 § 31.074(c)][CFR Title 33 § 175.115(b)]
  • VDS devices must be USCG approved and in carried in the number required [CFR Title 33 §175.130]
  • VDS devices must be in serviceable condition [CFR Title 33 § 175.125]
  • VDS devices must be readily accessible [CFR Title 33 § 175.120]

Lighting Requirements:
  • On freshwater you must exhibit an all-round white light or have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision between sunset and sunrise [TWSA Title 4 § 31.064][CFR Title 33 § 83.25(d)(2)]
  • On coastal waters you must exhibit an all-round white light or have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision between sunset and sunrise [TWSA Title 4 § 31.064][CFR Title 33 § 83.25(d)(2)]
  • On gulf waters you must have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision between sunset and sunrise [CFR Title 33 § 83.25(d)(2)]
  • All-around white lights must be visible for 2 miles [CFR Title 33 § 83.22(c)(5)]

Registration and Numbering:
  • Kayaks, regardless of length, do not have to be registered [TWSA Title 4 § 31.022(c)]
  • Kayaks, 14 feet or longer, equipped as a sailboat have to be registered and numbered [TWSA Title 4 § 31.022(c)]
  • Kayaks, regardless of length, equipped with a motor (electric or gas) have to be registered and numbered [TWSA Title 4 § 31.021(a)]
  • If you register and number your kayak know that there are more minimum requirements that apply than listed above

Minimum Requirements Summary:
Lakes and Rivers: PFD and 360 light or flashlight/lantern at hand between sunset and sunrise
Bays: PFD, sound signaling device, 360 light or flashlight/lantern at hand between sunset and sunrise, and VSD suitable for night time use between sunset and sunrise
BTB: PFD, sound signaling device, flashlight/lantern at hand between sunset and sunrise, and VSD suitable for night time use between sunset and sunrise

Please Note: Bays adhere to the Inland Navigation Rules while BTB adheres to International Navigation Rules referred to as COLREGS, which there is a slight variance in the prescribed lighting rule. An all around white light may not be used while underway in the gulf. An all around white light may only be displayed while anchored. The line separating Inland and International Navigational Rules is called the Line of Demarcation; for example a line of demarcation exists across the end of the Aransas Pass Jetties.

Amended: 9/15/2020
Last edited by Neumie on Tue Sep 15, 2020 8:44 am, edited 8 times in total.
#2309225
I know Game Wardens and US Coast Guard individuals sometimes have their own take on the law and it differs from what is in writing. With regards to offshore visual distress signals I've seen a video where a kayak fisherman get a warning from the USCG for not having flares on board his Hobie Outback during the day because he was more than 2 miles offshore. Not sure if you came across this in your research or if this was just one of those cases where the USCG was interpreting their own version of the law. FWIW this did not occur in Texas.

Here's the video. At 7:35 is when the CG shows up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbchcjuxBlc&t=1s
User avatar
By Neumie
#2309227
SWFinatic wrote:I know Game Wardens and US Coast Guard individuals sometimes have their own take on the law and it differs from what is in writing. With regards to offshore visual distress signals I've seen a video where a kayak fisherman get a warning from the USCG for not having flares on board his Hobie Outback during the day because he was more than 2 miles offshore. Not sure if you came across this in your research or if this was just one of those cases where the USCG was interpreting their own version of the law. FWIW this did not occur in Texas.

Here's the video. At 7:35 is when the CG shows up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbchcjuxBlc&t=1s

It's my understanding you are required to carry them at all time in case of an emergency whether or not you had planned on being out between sunset and sunrise. Same thing with always carrying the prescribed lights (all around white light) with you at all times as well. Any times there's restricted visibility, such as fog or rain, you are required to have your light(s) on; day or night. (Edit: Everything I've read from the USCG says VDS for night use only need to be carried between sunset and sunrise.)

I've been stopped by the Coast Guard (in my boat not a kayak) once before in front of Palm Harbor RV/Estes Flats. We were on the up and up, but this was a point to share that even within the bay system you can be checked by the Coast Guard.

So, I've done a little more research the federal laws I quoted are from the Inland Navigation Rules. Once you pass the demarcation line (for example the end of the Port Aransas jetties or launch from the surf to go BTB) you must follow International Rules, aka COLREGS. (Edit: The only difference I've read between Inland and International is the lighting requirements. International you are not allowed to have an all around white light on while underway; only a torch or lantern readily available to display in time to prevent collision is allowed.)

I'm going to amend my original post to remove mention of BTB fishing.
#2309423
SWFinatic wrote:I know Game Wardens and US Coast Guard individuals sometimes have their own take on the law and it differs from what is in writing. With regards to offshore visual distress signals I've seen a video where a kayak fisherman get a warning from the USCG for not having flares on board his Hobie Outback during the day because he was more than 2 miles offshore. Not sure if you came across this in your research or if this was just one of those cases where the USCG was interpreting their own version of the law. FWIW this did not occur in Texas.

Here's the video. At 7:35 is when the CG shows up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbchcjuxBlc&t=1s


My understanding is that flares OR an approved signal flag are adequate during the day as a "Visual Distress Signaling Device" so I bought 2 of them at Academy. Big orange honkers with a black square in the middle. And a set of flares for the kayak that I generally run at night. It makes sense that you'd want some way to signal distress, day or night, especially if you're offshore.

I'm wondering if the CG guy in the video just mentioned flares to make the conversation shorter, or if you really need flares and the flags aren't adequate? Which also begs the question about flashing white lights as an alternative to the flares...

Also, I notice that Neumie mentioned a flashlight at the ready in coastal waters, which is all the USCG requires. Yet, the Texas rules don't seem to differentiate, with a 360 light required at all times.

LIGHTS REQUIRED
All vessels including motorboats, canoes, paddle craft, kayaks, punts, rowboats, rubber rafts, or other vessels when not at dock must have and exhibit at least one bright light, lantern or flashlight visible all around the horizon from sunset to sunrise in all weather and during restricted visibility.


https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwd ... 0_0001.pdf

Has anyone ever gotten a definitive answer on that issue?
User avatar
By Neumie
#2309442
impulse wrote:My understanding is that flares OR an approved signal flag are adequate during the day as a "Visual Distress Signaling Device" so I bought 2 of them at Academy. Big orange honkers with a black square in the middle. And a set of flares for the kayak that I generally run at night. It makes sense that you'd want some way to signal distress, day or night, especially if you're offshore.

I'm wondering if the CG guy in the video just mentioned flares to make the conversation shorter, or if you really need flares and the flags aren't adequate? Which also begs the question about flashing white lights as an alternative to the flares...


Everything from my research states kayaks are only required to carry VDS suitable for night use. In the video the Coast Guard only asked to see the flares, because that is all the kayaker was legally required to carry. You can carry a flag, orange smoke canisters, popping off a gun in 1 minute intervals, etc, but if you are not carrying USCG approved VDS for night use you are in violation. A distress flag is not approved for night use.

impulse wrote:Also, I notice that Neumie mentioned a flashlight at the ready in coastal waters, which is all the USCG requires. Yet, the Texas rules don't seem to differentiate, with a 360 light required at all times.

LIGHTS REQUIRED
All vessels including motorboats, canoes, paddle craft, kayaks, punts, rowboats, rubber rafts, or other vessels when not at dock must have and exhibit at least one bright light, lantern or flashlight visible all around the horizon from sunset to sunrise in all weather and during restricted visibility.


https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwd ... 0_0001.pdf

Has anyone ever gotten a definitive answer on that issue?

I first compiled this requirement list several years ago and the state and federal laws conflicted with each other. However it appears since I did so the state regulation for prescribed lights on manually propelled watercraft was amended to match the federal lighting laws. I've edited my original post. Thank you for posting this.
#2309461
Interesting update... Texas apparently has changed to match the USCG rules about kayak lighting (requires only having a light at the ready), but they still have conflicting info out in the public domain.

Starting with conflicting info on different pages of the same document:

If sidelights and stern light are not practical, it must have and exhibit at least one bright light, lantern, or flashlight from sunset to sunrise in all weather. (That's from the table in the pre-amble)

(ii) A vessel under oars may exhibit the lights prescribed in this Rule for sailing vessels, but if she does not, she shall exhibit an all-round white light or have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision (That's from the body on P67)

Source: https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwd ... 0_0014.pdf (Water Safety Act, which should be the go-to document)

And murky information on another public document:

All vessels including motorboats, canoes, paddle craft, kayaks, punts, rowboats, rubber rafts, or other vessels when not at dock must have and exhibit at least one bright light, lantern or flashlight visible all around the horizon from sunset to sunrise in all weather and during restricted visibility.

All other manually driven vessels may exhibit sidelights and a sternlight, or shall exhibit at least one bright light, lantern, or flashlight from sunset to sunrise when not at dock.


Source: https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwd ... 0_0001.pdf (Summary of the Water Safety Act, which, I fear, is the document most likely to be carried around by the Game Wardens)

A very helpful Coast Guard guy that I've corresponded with for a year or so on the issue assures me that Texas has been forced to fall in line with the USCG rule or lose Federal funding. Which means that having a light at the ready is sufficient, and it doesn't have to be on at all times.

But Caveat Emptor. Make your own decision. To be honest, I'm hoping someone from the state sees these discrepancies and fixes them. Looking at Neumie's excellent list, it's hard enough to stay legal without bad information floating around on official documents.
#2309463
Maybe the research done here will help someone out down the road if a violation does occur.

Also when it comes to flares (i.e. visual distress signals) there's no less than half dozen different types of flares. Some for day, some for night, some with smoke, etc.
#2309486
impulse wrote:Interesting update... Texas apparently has changed to match the USCG rules about kayak lighting (requires only having a light at the ready), but they still have conflicting info out in the public domain.

.......

A very helpful Coast Guard guy that I've corresponded with for a year or so on the issue assures me that Texas has been forced to fall in line with the USCG rule or lose Federal funding. Which means that having a light at the ready is sufficient, and it doesn't have to be on at all times.

But Caveat Emptor. Make your own decision. To be honest, I'm hoping someone from the state sees these discrepancies and fixes them. Looking at Neumie's excellent list, it's hard enough to stay legal without bad information floating around on official documents.


Yeah, it's tough going to TPWD's website an see the conflicting info. That's what motivated me to dig a little more and compile a list of the minimum requirements and, most importantly, cite the statute to support my post. In Texas you really have to read through the Texas Water Safety Act every 2 years, next revision will happen 09/01/2021. I didn't read carefully enough and missed the amended lighting requirements you pointed out.

My other issues is TPWD no longer shows kayakers are required to have a whistle or some other audible device when at the coast or BTB. Federal law is pretty clear we need to have that safety requirement.

SWFinatic wrote:Maybe the research done here will help someone out down the road if a violation does occur.

Also when it comes to flares (i.e. visual distress signals) there's no less than half dozen different types of flares. Some for day, some for night, some with smoke, etc.

I carry the Orion Skyblazer II along with an additonal whistle, small air horn, and mirror in a Plano Waterproof Case
#2309487
While we're discussing safety I think it's important that we touch base on navigation rules for kayakers. Many kayakers believe since we are a non-motorized vessel we have the right away in nearly all situations while navigating. Although the "Rules to the Road" don't specifically call out manually powered vessels, there are still portions which apply.

This article was written by Paul Barnard, the Eighth Coast Guard District Recreational Boating Safety (RBS) Program Manager for paddling.com. I'll copy and paste it here, but this is the link: https://paddling.com/learn/navigation-rules-for-paddlers/
Paul Barnard, USCG wrote:How many of you have ever heard that paddle craft (vessels under oars according to the Navigation Rules) always have the right of way? I have heard that a number of times and have read it in many places. There is NO basis for that in the Navigation Rules. It isn’t written explicitly, and it is not implied anywhere. It is a myth and a potentially dangerous one at that.

Vessels under oars are singled out but once in the Navigation Rules and that is in the lighting section. Otherwise we are simply “vessels” with all the attendant responsibilities. There are essentially three different navigational situations boaters find themselves in. Overtaking situations, head on (meeting) situations and crossing situations. Let’s examine the rules and see how they apply to us paddlers in each of those situations.

Overtaking (passing) situations are easy. The vessel being overtaken is the most privileged vessel on the water. It is always the “stand-on” vessel and the vessel doing the overtaking is always the “give-way” vessel. Paddlers are the stand-on vessel when being overtaken. I don’t think we find ourselves doing the overtaking often. When being overtaken, we have a responsibility to maintain course and speed. Before altering course, always look behind. If anyone is overtaking us, we have a duty to maintain course and speed.

What about meeting and crossing scenarios? Vessels under oars are not specifically mentioned in the meeting and crossing rules (14 and 15) or in rule 18 where the hierarchy is established. There are rules for all the other categories of vessels but us paddlers. We are covered in Rule 2 which very generally says to use good judgement based on the whole of the situation. With that in mind there is no reason why in meeting situations a port to port passing won’t work well and in crossing situations that the vessel which is to the right of the other shouldn’t be the stand on vessel.

If you are paddling and a power boat is approaching you head on, make an early and apparent course change (that’s Rule 8a and b) to starboard. That sends a clear message to the approaching vessel that you want a port to port passing.

Here are a couple more pointers with a basis in the Rules. When paddling in a channel, stay as far right as practicable (9a). I avoid channels when I can. That’s the beauty of our paddle craft. We can go just about anywhere. The vessels in the channel probably have to stay in the channel, so that would mean us paddlers would have to give way to them if we were crossing (9d.) Avoid anchoring in a channel (9g.) When crossing channels do so at right angles. Lastly, all mariners are burdened with the responsibility of taking all action necessary to prevent collision even if it means departure from the rules (2b.)

That’s a quick and easy rundown of the rules as they apply to our interactions with motorboats. It is vital that we don’t erroneously assume that the rules imbue us with any special privileged status as vessels under oars.

For more, read the Full Navigation Rules from the USCG.
#2309488
Neumie wrote:I carry the Orion Skyblazer II along with an additonal whistle, small air horn, and mirror in a Plano Waterproof Case


I keep a cheap whistle attached by lanyard to each life jacket. Ticks the USCG box for $3 and (as far as I know) doesn't conflict with any TPWD rules. And I always have at least one life jacket in the kayak with me. It's an old habit from SCUBA diving, where a rescue whistle on every BCD is pretty much standard equipment. Back in SCUBA class, they proved to us that a whistle is 10x more effective and long lasting as shouting in a rescue situation.
#2309492
impulse wrote: I keep a cheap whistle attached by lanyard to each life jacket. Ticks the USCG box for $3 and (as far as I know) doesn't conflict with any TPWD rules. And I always have at least one life jacket in the kayak with me. It's an old habit from SCUBA diving, where a rescue whistle on every BCD is pretty much standard equipment. Back in SCUBA class, they proved to us that a whistle is 10x more effective and long lasting as shouting in a rescue situation.

I should clarify that all my PFD's have a pea-less whistle attached and in a pocket. My emergency case has redundant sound signalling devices.

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