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Are Bait Launchers Legal To Use For Surf Fishing?

Are Bait Launcher Legal?
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Bait launchers are an easy way to make long-distance fishing easier and more fun. Answers on if or where they’re legal to use can be hard to find, though. Bait launchers can be dangerous pieces of equipment, so safety legislation has been created for some areas.

Are bait launchers legal? Bait launchers are legal to use in a majority of the world. Instead of being outlawed, they are required to be registered as firearms in many areas. Some places also have more specific legislation around where and how you can use them.

There are a few reasons why there is legislation around the use of bait launchers. There are also different kinds of launchers that will affect the ability to use them in each area. With all of this information, though, you should be able to make an informed decision about whether or not bait launchers are a good purchase.

Bait Launchers & Potato Cannons

There are plenty of branded bait launchersOpens in a new tab. on the market. However, these guns are still legally recognized as potato cannonsOpens in a new tab.. Also commonly called “spud guns,” potato cannons are any handheld gun that is made to shoot projectiles. In fact, the earliest created bait launchers were altered potato cannons.

When we’re talking about the legality of these launchers, the type of launcher is important. Specifically, you will need to distinguish between combustion and pneumatic launchers.

Combustion launchers, as the name suggests, use fuel combustion to propel the object. Pneumatic launchers, on the other hand, use air compression instead.

Branded bait launchers will almost always be pneumatic. Pneumatic launchers Opens in a new tab.are considered to be less dangerous due to the lack of firepower. In reality, they are much more powerful than combustion launchers. Some home-made bait launchers, or altered potato cannons, maybe combustion-based.

Knowing the difference between a combustion and pneumatic launcher is a very important part of figuring out the legality of bait launchers in your area. You’ll see why that is as we get further into the article. But first, we should talk about why exactly these launchers are being regulated in the first place.

Why Are Bait Launchers Regulated?

Potato cannons, not bait launchers specifically, have often been regulated. The regulation here is based on margin for error. There have been quite a few reported incidentsOpens in a new tab. involving potato cannons and bait launchers, so safety regulations have been enforced.

For the most part, pneumatic launchers are unlikely to be under regulation. This means that branded bait launchers are much less likely to be made illegal, as they are almost always pneumatic.

The focus is on combustion launchers because, well, combustion is involved. By “combustion,” of course, we’re talking about the igniting of fire in an air-tight chamber, to cause a blast.

While the pneumatic is technically more powerful than the combustion launcher, the latter is more dangerous. Anything that uses combustion to launch an object could explode.

This obviously isn’t likely to happen, but because it is a possibility, increased regulation is necessary. To follow those regulations, you need to know what they are and if they’re in place in your area.

Navigating Regulations

In the United States, pneumatic bait launchers are widely accepted as legal. If you want to use a launcher on a public beach for surf fishingOpens in a new tab., though, you should check local regulations. In California, you could go to the California Department of Fish and WildlifeOpens in a new tab. website.

Your state should have a similar site. In Florida, for example, it is not legal to use combustion launchers. So, making sure that you know state and city regulations beforehand could help avoid getting fined or, worse, arrested.

A quick phone call or email can be the difference between you breaking the law or abiding by it. And, more importantly, you could avoid getting someone seriously hurt.

Your state or city’s Parks DepartmentOpens in a new tab. should be able to tell you where you can use a bait launcher. They may have the information available on their website. You should also be able to find most information about necessary air gun regulations online. If not, contacting Parks should get you the information that you need.

Other countries have their own regulations. Australia, for example, has stringent regulations for all pneumatic guns. Users must have a firearm license, which requires six months of training and membership in a local pistol club. So, it may not be worth it for Australian fishers to use bait launchers.

Are Bait Launchers Consider As A Firearms?

There is some debate over whether bait launchers (or potato cannons in general, really) should be considered firearms. For the most part, the general consensus seems to hover around only defining combustion launchers as firearms. This leaves a lot of room, legally, for the use of pneumatic launchers.

Every area is going to look at it differently, though. In the U.S., pneumatic launchers Opens in a new tab.are not viewed as firearms or weapons overall. Here, states are given the right to have their own, stronger legislation on the subject. Countries outside of the U.S. may have vastly different legislation around the issue.

Some refuse to define these launchers as weapons at all, while others have defined pneumatic launchers as firearms. Knowing if a launcher is considered a firearm in your area is crucial because it would then be illegal to use without a firearm’s license. And, for many of these countries, that requires a lot of time and extensive training.

Where Are Bait Launchers Legal?

In the United States, pneumatic bait launchersOpens in a new tab. are legal to own. None of the states have made pneumatic bait launchers illegal or have defined them as firearms. Combustion launchers are considered firearms in all states of the U.S. and are not legal to use in a few states.

Using launchers of any kind in heavily populated areas, like public parks or beaches in large cities, will most likely not be allowed. This is true for pneumatic launchers as much as it as for combustion launchers. There may be exceptions to this, though.

If you’re curious about whether or not you can use a bait launcher in a public area, contact the office of those who run the park/beach/etc. Officials are the only ones who are going to be able to give you a definitive answer on whether or not launchers are permitted. With their permission, you should be good to go!

Can Bait Launchers Be Used to Catch Shrimp for Bait in Surf Fishing?

Yes, bait launchers can be used to catch shrimp for bait in surf fishing. Using a bait launcher allows you to cast your bait out further into the surf, increasing your chances of a successful catch. Just be sure to handle and store eating bait shrimp safelyOpens in a new tab. to prevent any contamination.

Legislation Per Country

As long as your bait launcher is pneumaticOpens in a new tab. and not combustible, this table should tell you if it’s legal or not. It should be noted that this table only includes a limited number of countries from which we could find information on launcher legislation.

CountryIs It Legal?Is It A Firearm?
New ZealandYesNo*
United KingdomYesPossibly
United StatesYesNo

*While not recognized as firearms, they are regulated to a certain age group (often 18 years or older).

As you can see, bait launchers are legal to use in many major countries around the world. However, they are often counted as a firearm. Knowing the regulationsOpens in a new tab. around firearms in your area—like how to acquire a firearm license—is going to be important in these cases.


Understanding why bait launchers are regulated can help give context to some of the more restrictive laws. It’s also good to know the difference between combustion and pneumatic launchers, as the regulation on each is quite different from place to place.

The first step to finding out if a bait launcher is legal is to figure out what kind of bait launcher you have. Then you’ll have to contact local or state officials who would know if you can use your bait launcher.

Zaldy G.

I love feeling the cool ocean spray every time I hit the beach with a rod and a bucket of bait. I love the thrill of feeling bites on my line whenever I hook a big one. And I especially love the pride that comes with cooking a fresh catch and sharing it with my friends and family. Thank you for stopping by. Let's go catch some fish!

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