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Ohio Boat Operating Laws

Boating Education Requirement 

ORC 1547.05 Completing boating course as prerequisite to licensing; exception

No person born on or after January 1, 1982, shall operate a powercraft powered by more than 10 horsepower unless the operator has received a certificate for successful completion of either of the following: 

  • A boating course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA); 
  • A proficiency examination approved by the Ohio Division of Watercraft.

A person who possesses a valid merchant mariner credential issued by the US Coast Guard with at least one endorsement of master or operator is exempt but shall carry onboard documentation of these credentials and present them to a law enforcement officer upon request. 

ORC 1547.051 Presenting proof of license

A person required to have the certificate as indicated above and who is stopped by a law enforcement officer while operating a powercraft more than 10 horsepower, shall present to the law enforcement officer the certificate or proof of holding the certificate within 72 hours of being stopped. 

ORC 1547.052 Powercraft Rentals 

No rental business shall lease or rent a powercraft powered by more than 10 horsepower to a person born on or after January 1, 1982, unless the person meets one of the following:

  • The person signs the rental agreement or attachment indicating that they have completed an approved boating course or proficiency exam as indicated above;

  • The person receives educational materials from the rental business and passes an abbreviated exam with a score of 90% or better. Achievement of the passing score will be indicated on or attached to the rental agreement.

Any person born on or after January 1, 1982, that operates or supervises the operation of a leased or rented powercraft, shall meet the requirements in the paragraphs above and be named as an operator on the rental agreement. 

Operator Age

Child Operators: Supervising Person

ORC 1547.06 Child operators

Except as provided, no person under 16 years of age shall operate a personal watercraft (PWC). Individuals 12 to 15 years of age may operate a PWC if a supervising person 18 years of age or older is also onboard. In the case of a supervising person born on or after January 1, 1982, the supervising person must hold a certificate meeting the requirements of ORC 1547.05 and in the case of rented powercraft, must meet the requirements of ORC 1547.052. 

No person under 12 years of age shall operate any vessel unless under the direct visual and audible supervision of a person who is 18 years of age or older. This section does not apply to personal watercraft (see previous paragraph) or other powercraft powered by more than 10 horsepower (see following paragraph). 

No person under 12 years of age shall operate powercraft powered by more than 10 horsepower unless under the direct visual and audible supervision of a person who is 18 years of age or older who is aboard the powercraft (excludes PWC operation). In the case of a supervising person born on or after January 1, 1982, the supervising person must hold a certificate meeting the requirements of ORC 1547.05 and in the case of rented powercraft, must meet the requirement of ORC 1547.052.

Children who operate vessels powered by more than 10 horsepower are required to meet the boating education requirements as described in ORC 1547.05 even while supervised by a person 18 years of age or older. 

No supervising person shall allow any violation of watercraft law. 

Personal Watercraft 

ORC 1547.41 Personal watercraft operation requirements

No person shall operate or permit operation of a personal watercraft unless each person aboard is wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). Operators on personal watercraft equipped with a lanyard type engine cutoff switch must attach the lanyard to their clothing, PFD, themselves or as appropriate for the specific devices.

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

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

"Personal Watercraft" is defined as a vessel less than 16 feet in length propelled by machinery and designed to be operated by an individual sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel rather than sitting or standing inside the vessel. 

Reckless Operation 

ORC 1547.07 Reckless or unsafe operation of vessel, water skis, aquaplane

No person shall operate a vessel, water skis or similar device:

  • carelessly or heedlessly;
  • without due caution;
  • in disregard of the rights or safety of any person, vessel, or property;
  • at a rate of speed or in a manner so as to endanger any person, vessel, or property.

No person shall operate or permit operation of a vessel in an unsafe manner. Unsafe operation includes:

  • becoming airborne while crossing the wake of another vessel within 100 feet or unsafe distance;
  • operating at a speed or proximity to a vessel or person being towed so as to require either vessel to swerve to avoid collision;
  • operating less than 200 feet behind a water-skier;
  • weaving through congested traffic.

A vessel shall be operated in a reasonable and prudent manner at all times.

Unsafe Condition & Termination 

ORC 1547.071 Authority of law enforcement officer when especially hazardous condition exists

A law enforcement officer may determine that an unsafe condition presents an especially hazardous condition to persons aboard a vessel and may direct the operator to take immediate, reasonable actions to correct the situation. This includes directing the operator to return a vessel to shore until the condition is corrected or has ended. Refusal by an operator to terminate operation after being ordered to do so is a violation of the Ohio Revised Code. An especially hazardous condition exists if a reasonably prudent person would believe that continued operation would create a hazard to persons aboard.

The following situations present unsafe conditions:

  • insufficient personal flotation devices;
  • insufficient fire extinguishers;
  • overloaded, insufficient freeboard for the water conditions in which the vessel is operating;
  • improper display of navigation lights;
  • fuel leaks, including fuel leaking from either the engine or fuel system;
  • accumulation of or an abnormal amount of fuel in the bilges;
  • inadequate backfire flame control;
  • improper ventilation.

Failure to Control 

ORC 1547.072 Operator of vessel to maintain control

No person shall operate or permit the operation of a vessel without sufficient control to avoid an incident that results in: property damage physical injury loss of life any combination of above. Operation in 

Restricted Areas, Buoys, Anchored & Docked Vessels 

ORC 1547.08 Prohibiting operation in certain areas - low speed areas

No person shall operate a vessel in designated "swim areas," areas buoyed off as "no boats," or within any area buoyed designating it as an are in which boats are prohibited.

Areas marked as "no boats" include the areas above and below dams and endangered species areas. 

No person shall operate a vessel at greater than idle speed or create a wake under any of the following circumstances:

  • within any area buoyed or marked as a "no wake" area;
  • within 300 feet of any marina, boat docking facility, boat gasoline dock, launch ramp, recreational boat harbor, harbor entrance on Lake Erie or on the Ohio River;
  • during sunset to sunrise between the Dan Beard Bridge and the Brent Spence Bridge on the Ohio River for any vessel not documented by the U.S. Coast Guard as commercial.

"Wake" is defined as a track left in the water by a watercraft, causing waves that may cause discomfort, injury or damage to persons, watercraft or property. difference between wake and no-wake 

"Idle speed" is the slowest possible speed needed to maintain steerage and maneuverability.

No person shall operate a vessel within 300 feet of an official diver's flag unless tendering the dive operation. 

No person shall permit operation of a vessel in violation of these sections. 

Mooring and Interference with Buoys Prohibited 

ORC 1547.09 Prohibited Acts & OAC 1501:47-1-10 Interference with or mooring to navigation buoys

No person shall moor or anchor in any designated speed zone or water ski zone. Unless in distress, no person shall moor, anchor, or tie to any marker, aid, buoy, light, or other aid to navigation. No person shall operate or permit operation of a vessel in violation of this section. 

No person shall climb on, swim or hang on, dive off, tie a watercraft to, injure, sink, disconnect from its anchor, damage, deface, or interfere with any buoy or other aid to navigation. 

Obstructing a Waterway, Securing of Docked and Anchored Vessels

OAC 1501:47-1-13 Obstructing a waterway, securing of docked and anchored vessels

No person shall anchor, moor, tie-up, or raft off to any other vessel, dock, launch ramp, or structure in such a manner that the vessel blocks, impedes, or restricts other vessels in their normal and reasonable use or navigation.

No person shall leave any vessel anchored, or in any dock space, or tie-up space, without first properly fastening and securing the vessel in such a manner as to avoid fouling or collision with any other vessel, or from drifting free.

OUI  Operating Under the Influence

Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs Prohibited; Testing

ORC 1547.11 Operation, control, or manipulation under influence of alcohol or drug & ORC 1547.111 Implied consent to chemical test

No person shall operate or be in physical control of any vessel underway, or manipulate any water skis or similar device if the person is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

NOTE: It is an offense to operate a vessel while having a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08 or more. A BAC less than 0.08 is admissable in court along with other evidence of impairment to prove operating under the influence. For persons under 21 years of age, it is an offense to operate a vessel while having a BAC of 0.02  or more. Further, it is an offense for persons under the age of 21 to purchase, possess, consume, or be under the influence of alcohol.

Penalty for Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs

OFFENSE MINIMUM MAXIMUM
First 3 days jail
$150 fine
6 months jail
$1,000 fine
Second 10 days jail
$150 fine
6 months jail
$1,000 fine
Third 30 days jail
$150 fine
1 year jail
$1,000 fine

Any person who operates a vessel, water skis or similar device shall be deemed to have given consent to a chemical test or tests of their blood, breath, or urine to determine alcohol or drug content if arrested. If a person under arrest refuses to submit to a chemical test the person is prohibited from operating a vessel or water skis or from registering a vessel for a one-year period. If the person is the owner of the vessel the registration certificate and tags will be impounded for a one-year period.

Incapacitated Operators Prohibited

ORC 1547.12: No person shall operate any vessel if they are unable physically or mentally to operate in a safe and competent manner. No person shall permit operation of a vessel in violation of this section.

Water Skiiing/Towing 

Skiing Confined to Ski or Open Zone

ORC 1547.14: Any person who rides or attempts to ride upon water skis or similar device or who barefoot skis, or any boat operator who tows a skier shall confine that activity within a designated ski zone or open zone.

Exceptions to this section exists on Lake Erie, Ohio River, and immediately connected harbors and anchorage facilities where these zones have not been established.

Towing for recreational purposes is permitted at idle speed in a designated no-wake zone as long as it is...

  • not within 300 feet of a gas dock, launch ramp, or harbor entrance
  • not in an anchorage area, boat swimming area, or boat camping area
  • not under or within 300 feet of a bridge underpass
  • not in any area designated as a no-ski zone.  

No person shall permit operation of a vessel in violation of this section.

Observer Required when Towing Skier

ORC 1547.15: Any person who operates a vessel towing a person on water skis, surfboard, other similar devices or barefoot skier shall have an observer ten years of age or older in the vessel who shall at all times observe the person being towed. The vessel operator shall observe the traffic pattern. No person shall permit operation of a vessel in violation of this section.

Water Skiing After Dark Prohibited

ORC 1547.16: No person shall water-ski or be towed on any device, or operate a vessel towing a person between sunset and sunrise except upon special permit. Consult an official sunrise-sunset table of the local area for exact times.

Sitting, Standing, Walking on Moving Vessels Restricted

ORC 1547.22: No occupant of a vessel underway shall sit, stand, or walk on any area not designed for that movement except when immediately necessary for safe and reasonable navigation or operation. No person shall permit any occupant to violate this section. No person shall operate or permit operation of any vessel in violation of this section.

One of the most common causes of boating fatalities is drowning after falling overboard. One way to reduce the risk of taking a plunge is to sit in seats designed for that purpose. Bow riding is especially dangerous because unexpected movement, large waves or sudden change in course could easily throw the passenger in the water. The risk of injury from being run over by the boat or being struck by the propeller is great in such situations.

Capacity Plates

ORC 1547.39 & ORC 1547-40: No person shall operate or permit operation of a watercraft in excess of any of the stated limits on the capacity plate. When no capacity plate exists, no person shall operate or permit operation of a watercraft if a reasonably prudent person would believe the total load aboard or the total horsepower of any motor or engine presents a risk of physical harm to persons or property.

No person shall alter, remove, or deface any information on the capacity plate.


Garbage/Littering

Littering Prohibited

ORC 1547.49: No operator or occupant shall discard litter improperly from any vessel regardless of intent. No operator shall allow litter to be discarded.

Refuse Disposal Prohibited

ORC 1531.29: No person shall discard litter on land, in a waterway or on the bank of a waterway where it could be washed into the water.

Enforcement

ORC 1547.63: Within their jurisdiction, any sheriff, deputy sheriff, marshal, deputy marshal, municipal police officer, township police constable, wildlife officer, park or conservancy district officer, or any other law enforcement officer may enforce watercraft laws.

Complying with Officer; Eluding or Fleeing; Stopping or Yielding to Law Enforcement Vessel

ORC 1547.13, 1547.131 & 1547.132: No person shall fail to comply with any lawful order of an officer having authority to direct or regulate the operation or use of vessels. A boat operator shall not purposely elude or flee from an officer after a visible or audible signal to bring the vessel to a stop is given.

Upon the approach of a law enforcement vessel with a blue flashing light, the operator of any vessel shall stop or give-way in any situation until the law enforcement vessel has passed.

No person shall permit operation of a vessel in violation of this section.

No person shall operate a vessel that creates a wake within 100 feet of a stopped law enforcement vessel with a blue flashing light.

No person shall operate a vessel that creates a wake within 100 feet of a public service vessel displaying a red and yellow alternating flashing light.