So You Want To Paddle Illinois…

So You Want to Paddle IllinoisUpdate: As of 2013, Illinois paddling registration regulations appear to have changed since the posting of this article. The new regulation states “Canoes, kayaks and paddle boats are no longer required to be titled/registered in Illinois UNLESS they have a motor or sail”. So unless you have an Evinrude strapped next to your rudder, you should be free to paddle our neighbor to the South’s wonderful waters without care. Read more on the regulations here.


We’re not saying Illinois isn’t paddling-friendly, far from it but they sure haven’t made it easy to find clear regulation information. While planning some trips to Illinois this year, I came upon some discussion via Facebook about boater registration and what it means for out-of-state paddlers (specifically Wisconsin) that needed clarification.

There is good and bad to registration (the bad being another invitation for interruption on a paddling trip) but for the time being, Wisconsin doesn’t require it. In fact, registration is completely voluntary as long as your canoe or kayak is not motorized. So what does this mean when you travel to Illinois? Turns out, you need to be prepared.

If you are an Illinois resident, you are supposed to have your canoe or kayak registered in order to paddle down any river, in addition to having a PFD onboard. There is no getting around this. Even for inflatable rafts this rule applies. If you reside outside of Illinois, you may be entitled to an exemption. As long as you do not paddle over 60 consecutive days down in Illinois waters (if only we all had such leisure!) and your kayak/canoe is registered in your state of residence, you do not need to have it additionally registered in Illinois.

Timothy contacted the Illinois DNR for an explanation and clarification on the rules and regulations for out-of-state paddlers after encountering some hubbub on his recent trip.

“While my friend and I weren’t asked about registration by the cop or anything, a family of three with a tiny tike were about to have at the river in their inflatable rafts, only to be given a run-around by the cop about registering their “boat.” The woman was incredulous, looking at him in that “are you kidding me?!?” kind of way. The guy was just doing his job, I guess, but he never questioned us with our kayaks. I can only surmise, since he struck me as quite meticulous, that he saw the Wisconsin license plate on the car.”

What you need to know:
The official response from the Illinois DNR is this: “You will need to carry with you while canoeing/kayaking on Illinois waters identification for proof of residency and a copy of your state’s statute regarding the registration exemption for canoes/kayaks.”

You would hope that the Illinois DNR would only need to glance at your Wisconsin ID and already know the statute but it’s always best to be prepared and keep your paddling karma intact.

Where are these statues? The Wisconsin DNR sent me right here. So print away, have your ID handy and a PFD on board.

If you are neither an Illinois or Wisconsin resident, it’s best to first check your state’s rules and regulations on registration requirements before heading into the Land of Lincoln.

It should also be noted that Minnesota has straightforward requirements in regards to registration. “Canoes and kayaks need to be registered to be used in Minnesota if they are 9 feet in length or longer. Wisconsin will register them but you can also register them with us” (It takes a few weeks to process this through the mail). Or find a license office on your travels through Minnesota (Select Vehicles: Including Titles and Renewals to bring up a map of offices). So while Illinois might require a document, at least they’re saving you the cost of registration. The tolls however, are another issue.

The Short of it (if the above was simply too much copy to read):
If you are a Wisconsin resident who wants to canoe or kayak Illinois waters, you need the following 3 things:
– Proof of residency
A copy of Wisconsin Statute 30.51
– PFD (that’s just good form)

This hard-hitting reporting brought to you by Miles Paddled.

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