Canoe, Kayak, Boat or Multihull?

Wavewalk S4 multihull motor boat
Boating regulations

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is a branch of the United States Armed Forces, and it is authorized to enforce U.S. federal laws.
See: The Code of Federal Regulations, Title 33, Chapter I, Subchapter A, Part 1 and Part 2.

Who defines canoe, kayak and boat types?

There is no specific definition for Canoes and Kayaks within the regulation, but the USCG uses the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) definitions found within their H-29 standard “Canoes and Kayaks” to evaluate whether or not a vessel should be considered a canoe, a kayak, or a boat, and whether a canoe or kayak powered by a motor does not exceed a safe powering maximum rating.

Definitions –

ABYC H-29 provides the following definitions:

Kayak: A watercraft designed to be manually propelled, typically without provision for auxiliary power, with the occupant intended to be seated with legs approximately 90 degrees from the torso.

Canoe: A watercraft, designed to be manually propelled, with or without provision for auxiliary power, with neither end having a transverse dimension greater than 45% of its maximum beam and conforms to the following specifications:

Up to 14 ft (4.25 m) 1/3 of the canoe length
14 ft -16 ft (max 4.9 m) 1/4 of the canoe length
Over 16 ft 1/5 of the canoe length

This means that a vessel whose transom measures over 45% of its total width at its widest part may not be considered a canoe (i.e. square stern canoe), even if it can be paddled, and it will be considered a boat (e.g. dinghy, skiff, microskiff, Jon boat).

Some canoe and kayak manufacturers offer mounts for outboard motors, or include motors in the canoes and kayaks that they offer for sale. In all these cases, the manufacturer must meet the auxiliary horsepower standards to be considered compliant with the ABYC H-29 standard. These standards are:

Under 15 ft (4.6 m) 3 HP 2.25 KW
15 ft – 18 ft (5.5 m) 5 HP 3.75 KW
Over 18 ft (5.5 m) 7 HP 5.25 KW

This explains why Wavewalk chose to set the recommended limit of 3 HP for the maximum power for an outboard motor mounted on its Wavewalk 700 kayak.

Note: This table can be useful to evaluate claims that manufacturers of electric motors make about the power in HP terms of the motors they offer.

What about small motor boats?

There are two basic forms for a motor boat: monohull and multihull.
The Code of Federal Regulations, Title 33, Chapter I, Subchapter S Boating Safety, Part 183 Boats and Associated Equipment, defines a monohull boat as follows:

Monohull boat means a boat on which the line of intersection of the water surface and the boat at any operating draft forms a single closed curve. For example, a catamaran, trimaran, or a pontoon boat is not a monohull boat.”

Note that Part 183 Boats and Associated Equipment includes the federal safety requirements from boats. Canoes, kayaks and multihull boats are except from most of these requirements that monohull boats are subject to.

The USCG Recreational Boat Testing and Compliance Inspection Program clarified to us that in order for the Wavewalk S4 to meet the requirements of the multihull boat standard, its twin catamaran hulls must each have a distinct water waterline of its own, and these waterlines should never merge into a single waterline, even when the S4 is at its maximum recommended load of 600 lbs. Indeed, according to this, the S4 is a true catamaran, namely a multihull boat in the full sense.

Why we set the S4 ‘s maximum power limit to 6 HP

Regulations: The Wavewalk S4 is a high performance multihull motor boat that works with powerful outboard motors. We recommend a maximum power of 6 HP for it mainly because when the boat is fully loaded and driven at full throttle without a hydrofoil for its motor, a more powerful and therefore considerably heavier one could push its stern a bit lower than the lightweight 6 HP motor does, and in such case the S4’s two separate waterlines could merge and form a single waterline. If such thing happens it’s unlikely to impact safety, driving or performance, but according to the regulations it would require changing the S4 classification from  multihull to monohull, and we’d rather keep it the way it is.
Portability: Another reason for limiting the motor’s HP that’s worth serious consideration is that being so lightweight, the S4 works very well with a 6 HP outboard motor, and these motors typically weigh around 60 lbs, which for most owners is at the top limit of what may be considered a portable motor. Portability is key when it comes to carrying and transporting.

Note that a Tunnel Hull boat is not a catamaran (multihull), but a monohull, because it is designed to have the water reach the top part of the tunnel between the two longitudinal parts of its hull, and therefore it has only one waterline.

Registration of a boat or a motorized canoe / kayak

All states require that any motorized vessel, including canoes, kayaks and multihull boats be registered with the local authorities. In most cases the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) provides the registration service, but in some states other government organizations are in charge of these matters.

In most states, registering a motorized canoe or kayak does not require issuing a title but registering a boat does, and in some states even a motor boat doesn’t require the issuance of a title.

In most cases, registering a W700 kayak with the authorities does not require issuing a title, but registering an S4 multihull does.

The registration of a motorized canoe / kayak or a boat requires presenting to the authorities a Certificate Of Origin (COO) for the vessel, as well as a Bill Of Sale (BOS) for it. Wavewalk and its dealers provide both documents at no charge.

Best Boat For Under $10,000 in 2024

One thought on “Canoe, Kayak, Boat or Multihull?”

  1. Years ago, at a time ABYC was working on these standards, I contacted them and offered my help to create standards for multihull canoe and kayaks, but ABYC showed no interest.

    I guess these things are part of being at the cutting edge 😀


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