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Kayak Flag Laws | Rules of the Road in All 50 States


The yak’s loaded in the truck. Rods are packed, gas tank has enough, and your coffee is still hot. Just before you roll out to your favorite fishing grounds a passing though furrows your brow “What about the safety flag?”. Without a second thought you say “eff it” and 50 miles later Smokey nabs you with a ticket. That’s a crappy situation, but it’s one that’s easily avoidable with a little knowledge about kayak flag laws.

We put this together to help you navigate the differences in projecting load marking laws across state lines. Getting a ticket for a failure to flag is pretty annoying, especially because it’s so easily avoidable. But fines can be sizable – in some cases costing north of $500. That’s a lot of clams that could go have gone to more important purchases – like another fishing rod (or two). Before we go on it’s important to note that nothing below constitutes legal advice, nor should be construed as such.

Federal Overhang Definition

In the United States the US Department of Transportation establishes the standards that all 50 states follow. Overhang is defined as any load that projects 3′ beyond the front of a vehicle, or 4′ beyond the rear (source). The intent of these laws is pretty straightforward – the government want to make sure the dolt behind you doesn’t rear-end your boat. And arguably one of the better ways to do that is to put a large red flag or light on your yak to catch their attention (probably from their phone). If your kayak or canoe extends beyond these limits, then you’re required to mark it. How you mark it varies by state; most notably in the size of the flag and the number of lights.

Kayak Safety Flags and Lights

Any projecting load greater than 4′ from the rear of your vehicle requires a marking. During the daytime a simple red flag or marking usually does the trick. Most of us have tied a piece of red plastic ribbon on the end of a 2×4 at Home Depot. But surprisingly that sliver of red isn’t even compliant. States have specific dimensions for the size of marking flags, listed in the table below.

All 50 states require some sort of lighted marking at night for projecting loads. Requirements vary in terms of brightness. In general a marking light should be visible from at least 500′ from the side & 1,000′ from the rear, red, and hung at least one half hour before dusk and after dawn.

Kayak Flag and Light Requirements

The below table lists the minimum flag dimensions and number of lights needed at night.

StateMinimum Flag SizeLight RequiredSource
Alabama12 x122*

AL Code 770-X-10-.17-5-1-.08

Alaska16" x 16"2AK Code §28.33.190
Arizona18" x 18"2*AZ Code §28-935
Arkansas16" x 16"1AK Code §27-37-204
California18" x 18"22/3 x WheelbaseCaltrans
Colorado12" x 12"110'CO Revised Statutes 2016 §42-4-209
Connecticut12" x 12"1-

CT General Statutes 14-96k

Delaware12" x 12"16'Deleware Code Title 21 §4343
Florida12" x 12"215'2011 Florida Statutes §316.228
Georgia18" x 18"1-

GA Code § 40-8-27

Hawaii16" x 16"1-
Idaho18" x 18"110'ID Code §49-913
Illinois12" x 12"1625 ILCS §12-204
Indiana12" x 12"1

IN Code Title 9. Motor Vehicles § 9-21-7-7

Iowa16" x 16"1IA Code §321.394
Kansas12" x 12"2KS Code Article 17 §8-1715
KentuckyNot Specified*2KRS Chapter 189 §189.060
Louisiana12" x 12"1LA Code Title 32 §313
Maine12" x 12"1ME Code Title 21 Chapter 29 §2385
Maryland18"x18"1MD Code Title 22 § 22-213
Massachusetts12" x 12"1MA General Laws Part 1 Title XIV Chapter 90 §7
Michigan12" x 12"1MI Vehicle Code §257.693
Minnesota16" x 16"12020 MN Statutes §169.52
Mississippi16" x 16"1MS Code Title §63-7-47
Missouri16" x 16"1MI Code Title XIX §307.170
Montana12" x 12"1*

MO Code Annotated 2019 §61-9-213

Nebraska12" x 12"1NE Revised Statute 60-6,243
Nevada16" x 16"1NRS 484D.860
New Hampshire12" x 12"1NH Code §266:46
New Jersey18" x 18"2*NJ Code §39:3-61.4
New Mexico12" x 12"1NM Code §66-3-824
New York12" x 12"1

NY VAT § 375. Equipment

North Carolina18" x 18"114

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-117

North Dakota12" x 12"1ND Code §39-21-13
Ohio16" x 16"1Ohio Revised Code §4513.09
Oklahoma12" x 12"2*OK Statutes §47-12-213
Oregon18" x 18"1OR Special Transportation Permit Attachment 70A
Pennsylvania12" x 12"16Statutes of Pennsylvania  Title 75 §4924
Rhode Island12" x 12"1Title 31 § 31-24-45
South Carolina12" x 12"1*

SC Code Laws §56-5-4630

South Dakota12" x 12"1SD Code §10.20.100
TennesseeNo minimum1TN Code §Sec. 11-32-11
Texas12" x 12"2*

TX Transportation Code - TRANSP § 547.382

Utah12" x 12"2*Utah Code Title 41 Chapter 6A §1606
Vermont18" x 18"2*49 CFR § 393.11
Virginia12" x 12"1

VA Code §46.2-1121

Washington18" x 18"2*

RCW 46.37.140

West Virginia12" x 12"1WV Code § 17C-15-14
Wisconsin12" x 12"1WI Statutes §347.20
Wyoming12" x 12"1*WY Code §31-5-919

*Reflectors/Reflective tape required in addition to lights.

Compliance and Common Sense

During one of our kayak trips out to West Virginia a good Samaritan donated a red cloth to tie onto our boat and warned us that Smokey as patrolling. Odds are that rag didn’t measure exactly 12″ x 12″, but it still served as an effective visual cue to anybody behind us that “Hey, there’s something sticking out of this truck!”. We seriously doubt that most law enforcement is waiting to pull over somebody just to measure their marking flag.

If it’s readily apparent that you made an effort to mark your overhang than in all likelihood you’ll be ok. Officers have bigger fish to fry than the humble fisherman. If you’re looking for something quick and easy to tie on most big box stores carry smaller (technically non-compliant) kayak flags that will get the job done. Otherwise there are plenty of tailor made kayak flags that are a smidge easier to tie on to the bow handle. Pro Tip: consider using a stroller carabiner to attach the flag to your boat. It’s the perfect size to clip on and off most kayak handles.

Adding a light at night time is easily done by tying a red glowstick to your boat. It’s cheap, effective, and visible. Red LED sticks are a more permanent option – but you might find yourself short on batteries at the wrong time. Glowsticks are pretty foolproof and usually have a 2-3 year shelf-time.

Overview on Kayak Flag Laws

Regardless of whether your travelling 5 miles down the road or 500 miles away it’s always important to practice proper road safety. Kayak Flag Laws exist in an effort to protect both you and the people around you on the road. Hanging a flag might be a minor nuisance. But it’s a heck of a lot better than getting a ticket. And miles better than having somebody rear end your prized fishing kayak. So stay abreast of the kayak flag laws in your state and keep those flags waving.