Ohio Boating Safety Requirements

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs aka Life Jackets)

  • Ohio boaters are required to carry at least one U.S. Coast Guard approved Type IV PFD (ring buoy OR seat cushion) on all vessels that are 16 feet in length or greater, plus a wearable PFD for each person on board.
  • No person shall ride or attempt to ride upon water skis, surfboards, inflatable devices or similar devices being towed by a vessel without wearing a U.S. Coast Guard approved Type I, II, or III PFD or a Type V PFD specifically designed for water-skiing, in good and serviceable condition, and of appropriate size. No operator of a vessel shall tow any person who fails to comply with this law.
  • All PWC operators and occupants must be wearing a Type I, II, III or V personal flotation device.
  • All vessels less than 16 feet in length as well as canoes or kayaks of any length are required to have one Type I, II or III wearable PFD per person.
  • Inflatable PFDs are not intended for children under the age of 16 years.

Child PFD Law

All boaters or passengers younger than 10 years of age onboard a vessel less than 18 feet in length must be wearing a U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD.

Alcohol & Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

A boat operator with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or more is considered to be intoxicated and operating under the influence (OUI). Ohio law establishes the following penalties for boating while intoxicated:

Penalty for Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs





3 days jail; $150 fine

6 months in jail; $1,000 fine


10 days jail; $150 fine

6 months in jail; $1,000 fine


30 days jail; $150 fine

Up to 1 year in jail; $1,000 fine

By operating a vessel on Ohio waters, you have consented to an alcohol test if asked by a law enforcement officer. Refusal to undergo testing is an offense in itself and may lead to a loss of operating privileges for up to one year as well as fines.

"Zero Tolerance" prohibits persons younger than 21 years of age from consuming alcohol and operating a vessel with any measurable alcohol level at or above 0.02%.

Ohio Boat Registration

The Department of Natural Resources regulates the state boating laws in Ohio.

Numbering and registering a watercraft are two separate functions. Boaters cannot operate any watercraft without a valid registration. Evidence of registration is shown by displaying two square tags or one rectangular tag (Alternative Registration for watercraft propelled by human muscular effort), and carrying the valid registration certificate on board the watercraft.

All watercraft principally operated on Ohio waters must be registered and issued an Ohio Registration Certificate by the Ohio Division of Parks & Watercraft.

The following vessels do not require registration:

  • Vessels which are not required to be numbered, excluding documented watercraft;
  • Watercraft which are properly registered in another state and operating the waters of Ohio for less than 60 days consecutively; 
  • Commercial vessels; and
  • "Bellyboats"/"float tubes", kiteboards, paddleboards and sailboards.

New owners of a used watercraft must transfer the registration before operating the watercraft. To transfer the registration, simply ask the previous owner to complete the 'transfer' section and bring the registration certificate (even if not expired) to any watercraft registration agent. If a watercraft requiring a title is transferred to a new owner, the watercraft may be operated for up to 45 days before being titled in the new owner's name provided the new owner carries either of the following onboard:

  • A temporary watercraft registration from an authorized registration agent; or
  • A bill of sale from a watercraft dealer containing the required information.

*Registration Certificates and tags are valid for up to 3 years and expire on March 1st of the year indicated.

Certificate of Title

Boat owners must first obtain their boat title before a certificate of registration can be issued. A boat title is obtained from any county title office. The following watercraft require a title in the state of Ohio:

  • All watercraft 14 feet or more in length; and
  • All watercraft less than 14 feet in length, which are permanently fitted with a motor of 10 horsepower or more.

Note: Outboard motors that are 10 horsepower or more are also required to be titled.

Some watercraft listed above and on the previous page may not have needed a title when it was originally purchased. Prior to selling the watercraft, however, the owner must apply to a title office and obtain a title.

These include:

  • Watercraft or outboards purchased on or before October 9, 1963; and
  • Watercraft less than 14 feet in length with a permanently affixed mechanical means of propulsion of 10 horsepower or greater and purchased on or before January 1, 2000.

The following watercraft do not require a Certificate of Title:

  • U.S. Coast Guard documented watercraft
  • Watercraft owned by federal, state or a political subdivision of a state
  • Canoes and kayaks
  • Motors which are less than 10 horsepower
  • Watercraft from another country
  • Watercraft less than 14 feet in length without a permanently affixed mechanical means of propulsion;
  • Watercraft less than 14 feet in length with a permanently affixed mechanical means of propulsion of less than 10 horsepower; and
  • A ship's life boat

Cost to Register a Boat in Ohio

When a watercraft is registered, the boat owner will be issued a Certificate of Registration, assigned boat numbers and a decal. The assigned number is in three parts, beginning with the letters "OH", and followed by four numbers and two letters.

Under state and federal requirements, the number must be:

  • placed on each side of the forward half of the watercraft;
  • read from left to right;
  • in block characters of good proportion;
  • a minimum of three inches in height;
  • one color and contrast with the background or boat color;
  • separated by a hyphen or equivalent space between the prefix and suffix; and
  • maintained to be clearly visible and legible.

For example: OH 1234 BX or OH-1234-BX.

No other numerals or letters may be displayed on the bow.

Two square registration tags are issued with each traditional boat registration. On numbered boats the owner shall securely affix the tags on each side of the bow six inches toward the stern from the number.

The tags must be clearly visible in normal conditions and affixed prior to operation of the watercraft. Documented boats must display one tag on the port side and one on the starboard side.

When registering a vessel, a registration fee will be required. Please refer to the chart for the different options of fees.

TOTAL w/$3 writing fee

(two decals provided; you supply OH numbers)


(One decal provided; no OH numbers required; available only through Central Office in Columbus)


Note: If you attach a motor (permanently or not) to a vessel registered as "hand-powered," you must change the Type of Propulsion on your registration. See Add-a-Motor Proration Fees below. The proration is only valid for traditional registrations that are adding a motor, and the change must be made at a watercraft registration agent's office.


Canoes with Motor, other boats less than 16' long


Boats 16' long but less than 26' long


Boats 26' long but less than 40' long


Boats 40' long but less than 65' long


Boats 65' long and longer


TRANSFER FEE for Unexpired Registration TOTAL w/$3 writing fee

All boats


Ohio Watercraft Title Fees

A title is required for all powered boats 14' and greater in length, outboard motors of 10 or more horsepower, and Personal Watercraft. Titles are handled by county Clerks of Court. Contact the Clerk of Court in your area for more information on obtaining title information.

Watercraft Title: $5.00 plus any applicable sales tax

Add-A-Motor Proration Fees. Fee is prorated based on time remaining on current registration.





Under 16' and all canoes




16' to less than 26'




26' to less than 40'




40' to less than 65'




65' and over




The fees paid to register a watercraft are deposited in the Waterways Safety Fund, which is used to operate Ohio's boating program. All registration fees include a $3.00 writing fee which goes to the agent where you buy your registration.

Ohio's watercraft registrations are renewed triennially, which means decals are valid for three years. Registration certificates and tags expire on March 1 of the year indicated and are to be removed when they become invalid (expired).

Aquatic Nuisance Species

Non-native aquatic species, plants, fish and animals are invading coastal and inland waters. These pests can increase dramatically under the right conditions, displacing native species, clogging waterways, and impacting navigation and recreation. Once introduced, they are nearly impossible to eliminate. Hydrilla, Egeria Densa, Water Hyacinth and Zebra Mussels are nuisance species that can be accidentally transported by recreational boaters when caught in propellers, intakes or attached to hulls. Controlling Water Hyacinth and Egeria Densa is a multi-million dollar problem.

To help prevent the introduction and spread of non-native species from
one body of water to another, you should:

  • Inspect your boat and remove aquatic plants or animals before you leave any body of water.
  • Flush raw-water cooling systems and clean sea strainers before moving your boat from one body of water to another.
  • Empty bait buckets and remove any plant fragments from bait wells, fishing gear, trailers, dive gear or props. Dispose on land into a garbage receptacle.
  • Drain water from your motor, live wells and bilge.
  • Wash your boat before putting it into a new body of water.
  • Report new infestation of non-native aquatic species to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

To stop the spread of aquatic nuisance species, it is best to clean your boat before you leave the body of water.

Personal Watercraft Laws & Regulations

Do not underestimate a personal watercraft (PWC) – they are very powerful for their small size and demand the same respect as any boat. In fact, PWC operation must adhere to the same rules and regulations as any other powerboat, including registration with the state and a B-1 class fire extinguisher aboard. There are additional requirements in Ohio for PWC operation:

Hours of Operation

No person shall operate a personal watercraft between sunset and sunrise.

Lanyard Requirement

A person operating a personal watercraft that is equipped by the manufacturer with a lanyard-type engine cut-off switch, must attach the lanyard to the person, the person's clothing, or personal flotation device as appropriate for the specific watercraft.

PFD Requirement

No person shall operate or permit the operation of a personal watercraft unless each person on the watercraft is wearing a Type I, II, III or V PFD at all times. Remember: Inflatable PFDs are NOT intended for use with PWC.

"No-wake" speed

PWC must operate at "no-wake" speed when in designated "no-wake" zones or shore zones.

No person who owns or has charge over a personal watercraft shall permit operation in violation of laws.

Boating on Lake Erie

Lake Erie is one of Ohio's most popular recreational boating locations. There are certain considerations when boating on Lake Erie that boaters must be aware of.

Remember to keep at least 100 yards from U.S. Naval vessels, which are occasionally found on the Great Lakes. You are also required to reduce to "no wake" speed when operating within 500 yards of such vessels. If for any reason you need to approach within 100 yards of a Naval vessel, you are required to contact either the vessel or the US coast guard before doing so, on channel 16 of your VHF-FM radio. Failure to do so is a felony offence.

Lake Erie borders Canada. As such, boaters who cross into Canadian waters must report for customs inspection. ALL boaters and passengers will require a valid photo ID as well as a passport or a birth certificate. For further information, call Canadian Customs at 1-888-226-7277.

All boats entering the United States from Canadian waters that have passengers who were on Canadian soil must report to U.S. Customs. This legal obligation may be met by telephone. You can call on route with a cellular phone or immediately upon arrival to the United States.

Have the following information ready when calling to avoid delays:

  • Boat registration number and length (and Customs decal if over 30 feet; see below),
  • Captain's name and date of birth,
  • Total number of persons on board and value of all purchases in Canada,
  • The name of the marina where you first arrived on the United States side.U.S.

Customs and Border Protection has offices in Ashtabula (440-964-2510), Cleveland (440-891-3800), and Toledo/Sandusky (419-259-6424).