The "OH" number assigned to a boat stays with the boat for its lifetime in Ohio, regardless of ownership changes. ODNR assigns the OH number to your boat when it is first registered, but you, the boat owner, are responsible for properly displaying the boat's OH number. NOTE: When you buy an Alternative Registration for Hand-powered Vessels, you are not required to display the OH number, but you must still display a valid decal.
The number assigned is in three parts beginning with "OH" followed by four numbers and two letters. Even if the number is not displayed, the boat registration card will list the boat's OH number.
The tags or decals are the part of the registration that changes every three years. Traditional boat registrations come with two identical decals that are placed six inches from the OH number on each side of the boat. Alternative registrations display only one decal.
Decal(s) must be clearly visible in normal conditions and affixed prior to operation of the watercraft. This means, if you renew online you cannot operate your boat legally until the valid decals are displayed.
Numbers and Decals — Traditional Registration
Numbers: You can use any method you want to display the boat's OH numbers -- for example, applying vinyl letters or painting them on. There are location, size, and style requirements:
- The OH numbers are to be displayed on the left (port) and right (starboard) front of the boat (bow).
- The number reads from left to right.
- Use block characters of good proportion that are a minimum of 3 inches in height.
- Characters should be one color that contrasts with the background or boat color.
- Separate the four numbers in the middle from the letters at the beginning and end. Use a hyphen or equivalent space.
- The number must be maintained to be clearly visible and legible.
- No other numerals or letters may be displayed on the bow.
Decals: Six inches from the numbers, toward the back of the boat (stern), the Ohio Registration Decal should be displayed — one on each side. The decals are identical; they show their expiration date. Colors of the decal change every year (four colors and they are good for three years) so from afar, law enforcement officers can tell if your boat decal is expired.
Decal Placement — Alternative Registration
NOTE: The Alternative Registration for hand-powered vessels does not require the display of "OH" numbers. The Alternative Registration calls for the display of a single tag or decal.
The tags must be clearly visible in normal conditions and affixed prior to operation of the watercraft. Two display options are shown below.
Exemptions: Boats that Don't Need to Display OH Numbers
- Manually-propelled vessels that use the Alternative Registration
- Vessels documented by the US Coast Guard - Documented boats are very large boats (greater than 5 tons) that have their own federal numbering system. This is not a frequent case for recreational boaters in Ohio. If a documented vessel is owned and operated in Ohio, it must be registered in Ohio and must display one tag on the port side and one on the starboard side.
- Boats numbered by another state and not used in this state for more than 60 days
- Boats from a country other than the United States temporarily using Ohio water
- Boats owned by the United States, a state, or a political subdivision
- A ship's lifeboat — A "lifeboat" is held aboard another vessel and used exclusively for emergency purposes.
- Vessels exempted by the chief of the Division of Parks & Watercraft
- Vessels under a waiver issued for a race or special event