Do You Need a PA Launch Permit?

For boating, kayaking, and canoeing, Pennsylvania features several miles of gorgeous rivers, streams, and ponds, including 76 natural lakes. But do you require a PA launch permit before you launch your boat?

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission requires a PA launch permit or boat launch permit to launch a boat in Pennsylvania. This permit is required for all boats, including canoes and kayaks, whether they are motorized or not. The Pennsylvania State Parks can also provide you with a mooring or launching permit.

Suppose you fail to display your launch permit on your boat while on the water – you could be fined. The following must be displayed on all non-powered boats launched in Pennsylvania state parks or forests:

  • Registration of the boat
  • Launch permit from the PFBC
  • Pennsylvania State Parks launch or mooring permit, which is available at most park offices. [1]

Read on to know more about PA launch permits, including how to obtain one and which types of boats require one.

What’s a PA Launch Permit?

pa launch permit

A permit to use Pennsylvania’s waterways is known as a PA launch permit. This launch permit is required for both motorized and non-powered boats, such as rowboats, kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards. [2]

You can launch boats at PFBC lakes and other sites if you have secured a PA boat launch permit. Waterways can be accessed at Pennsylvania State Parks if you have a mooring or launch permit. [3]

Getting a PA Launch Permit – How Much Does It Cost?

Obtaining a PFBC launch permit can be done on the Commission’s website. The costs of registering your boat and getting a permit are as follows:

  • Boats measuring more than 20ft. – $52 [4]
  • 16 feet to less than 20ft. boats – $39
  • Boats measuring less than 16ft. – $26
  • Unpowered boats – $22

How to Obtain a PA Launch Permit

1. Boat Registration

Whether your boat is powered or not, you must register it. You can launch unpowered boats at Pennsylvania State Parks or Commission lakes if you display one of the following:

  • Registration of your boat
  • PFBC launch use permit
  • Pennsylvania State Parks launch/mooring permit

Every two years, you can renew your registration. It’s important to understand that once your boat is classified as unpowered, you won’t be able to use electric motors, fuel, or other mechanical propulsion on just about any Pennsylvania waterway.

2. Fill Out the Application Form

The application forms are available on the PFBC website, at county treasurer’s offices, at the PFBC’s headquarters, and at PFBC regional law enforcement offices. Complete all required details. Be truthful, as providing inaccurate information may result in your application being rejected.

3. Pay the Necessary Fees

Collect your registration card and two validation decals after paying the appropriate fee for your boat.

Your boat registration certificate must be displayed on your boat because it will serve as your registration card. The boat’s registration number is also included in the document.

4. Get Your Certificate of Boat Registration

Before leaving, double-check that you have the PFBC certificate. During operation, you must have the original certificate of boat registration in your boat at all times. Other jurisdictions’ boat certificates are not accepted by the PFBC. As a result, keep the paperwork in a visible, permanent location on your boat.

5. Kayaks and Other Low-Volume Boats Are Exempted from Displaying Numbers

Sailboards, kayaks, sculls, and other low-volume boats are free from displaying registration numbers, according to the PFBC. Owners, however, must display the validation decal. And on the sides of the boat, inflatable boat owners should show their validation decals and numbers.

Note that this exemption does not apply to canoes. So canoe owners must show the validation decal as well as their boat’s registration numbers.

If you want to go kayaking or canoeing on PFBC lands or access areas, you’ll need a PA boating launch permit. Before paddlers can operate, the PFBC normally needs them to obtain a launch permit. People who use kayaks, canoes, and other non-powered watercraft must get launch permits.

Boat Operator Responsibilities

You’re accountable for the following:

  • All actions of people aboard your vessel
  • Knowing and understanding the area’s rules and regulations
  • Making sure that everyone on board has enough safety equipment
  • Identifying the waters in which you intend to boat

Where can I get a permit to launch a kayak in Pennsylvania? The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of State Parks can issue you a PA kayak launch or mooring permit because the kayak is classified as an unpowered boat by the PFBC.

The Fish and Boat Commission in Pennsylvania can also help you obtain a boating launch permit. You don’t have to get both permits if you use one of them for your kayak.

Using a PFBC Lake or Access Area in Pennsylvania – General Rules

what is a pa launch permit

When accessing any of the PFBC areas, you must observe the following rules:

  • At all times, all boaters and paddlers should wear lifejackets.
  • There should be no alcohol drinking while paddling or boating.
  • When sailing on Lake Erie, you must have a USCG-approved VDS device.
  • At least three flares and orange signal flags are required.
  • All boats, whether powered or unpowered, must have a current launch permit or registration.
  • If you have a current registration, you can moor overnight in authorized sites (March 1 to November 30 is the covered period).  
  • This privilege is not available with Launch Use permits.
  • Poor quality inflatable boats that are less than 7 ft. long and do not have at least two unique buoyancy chambers are not permitted by the PFBC.
  • On its property, the PFBC forbids fires, swimming, camping, digging, picking, or cutting trees, plants, flowers, or shrubs.
  • Defacing or removing any placard, sign, or property is prohibited.
  • Don’t leave your trash behind; properly dispose of it in bins supplied for that purpose.
  • You are not permitted to sleep in your boats, tents, automobiles, campers, or other similar vehicles overnight.
  • You should park in approved places, so that launch ramps, driveways, and access roads are not obstructed.
  • You are responsible for your dogs if you have them; they need to be licensed and regulated. Only 2 dogs are permitted on the property of PFBC. When in parking lots and lawn areas, they should be leashed no longer than 6 ft. You must also scoop and dispose of their excrement off commission property right away.
  • Littering is prohibited: fishing lines, throwing cigarette butts, garbage, plastic, oil, dangerous substances, sewage, and human waste into the water is unlawful in Pennsylvania. If you did it by accident, you must go back and retrieve your waste, or you may be prosecuted and fined. [5]

What Boats Must I Register in Pennsylvania?

Any vessel designed to transport people over water is referred to as a boat. Surfboards and swimming aids are not included in this category of watercraft.

Boats must be registered if:

  • Electric, diesel, or gasoline engines are used to power it.
  • They are sailboats with auxiliary power from an electric motor, diesel, or gasoline.
  • Large recreational vessels, such as yachts, have been documented by the US Coast Guard.

For boating in Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests, you’ll need a PA launch permit or a boat launch permit. You must register and pay fees for your unpowered boats with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. The Commission could then issue you a permit. A mooring or launching permit from the Pennsylvania State Parks is another option. [5]

Should Unpowered Boats in PA Be Registered?

Boats without motors are known as unpowered boats and include the following:

  • Canoes,
  • Rowboats,
  • Kayaks,
  • Inflatable boats,
  • Sailboats, and
  • Rafts. 

Unpowered boats do not need to be registered unless they are used in Pennsylvania state parks and forests, a Fish Commission lake or access area, or when the owner requires it.

Getting a PA Boat Launch Permit from the PFBC or a launch and mooring permit from the Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources – Bureau of State Parks are two alternative options. is also a good place to get your permit. [6]

If your boat is powered by an outboard or inboard motor and is currently titled in Pennsylvania, you must get a title. The boat title establishes your legal ownership of the vessel. While a title is a safe document that proves you own the vessel, registration alone is not sufficient proof of ownership.

Kayaking and Canoeing in Pennsylvania – Precautions

Boat capsizing is a common canoeing and kayaking mishap. If you are alone and do not have a life vest, this mishap can be dangerous.

The following are some key points to keep in mind when paddling in Pennsylvania:

1. Know the Area 

To reduce the risk of accidents, you must be familiar with the area you are paddling in. Study the map and speak with the information staff if you have any questions. Are there any specific locations you should keep an eye on?

2. Wear Your Life Jacket All the Time

When paddlers don’t wear their life jackets, many accidents occur. Ensure that everyone in your group is wearing a life jacket. You are in charge of their safety.

3. Dress Accordingly

You should anticipate getting wet if you go kayaking or canoeing. To keep your feet safe, use tennis or wading shoes with waterproof socks. Your attire should be appropriate for the present weather conditions.

4. Prepare to Swim 

If you want to go kayaking, you must first learn to swim. This skill will come in handy if your boat capsizes or becomes swamped, forcing you to swim.

5. When Your Boat Capsizes, Hold on to It

When your boat capsizes, you should cling to it unless it is impossible. The boat will keep you floating long enough for others to notice you.

6. When Uncertain of the Water, Carry Your Boat

When you’re not sure about the water, portage your boat. In shallow waters, there may be boulders that could damage your boat.

7. Do Not Tie a Rope to a Child or Yourself

To prevent uncoiling, tie the ropes properly. But never attach a rope to a child or anybody else on your boat. When the boat capsizes, and you try to swim, the rope can drag you down.

8. You Must Never Paddle Alone

how to get a pa launch permit

Paddling alongside someone is preferable to paddling alone. When you’re around others, you can get aid right away if something goes wrong. Unless you are a competent paddler, paddling alone is risky.

9. Safely Navigate Your Canoe or Kayak

Avoid colliding with the water’s obstacles. If you do so by accident, lean toward the obstacle to soften the blow. Also, avoid taking your boat to a low-head dam. For inexperienced paddlers, this action could be dangerous.

10. Leave a Float Plan 

Supply a float plan to a family member, a friend, or a marina owner. The float plan should include the specifics of your route as well as the duration of your activities.

If something goes wrong during your paddling expedition, this strategy will help people find you.

Conclusion – What Is a PA Boat Launch Permit?

If you want to explore Pennsylvania’s extensive waterways, you’ll need that permit. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission can issue you a boat launch permit.

A mooring/launching permit from the Pennsylvania State Parks is another option.

The PA Fish and Boat Commission requires you to register your unpowered boats and pay the necessary fees.

Pennsylvania has a multitude of fun water activities. When kayaking or canoeing, however, be aware of all the restrictions and regulations. And if you follow these guidelines, you’ll have a great day on the water. Nothing will go wrong if you remember to bring your permit with you whenever you go boating or paddling in Pennsylvania’s waterways.