Kayaking Laws in OHIO. The Rules You Actually Need to Know

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Ohio is rich in water sport assets. With many rivers, lakes and streams, including significant access to Lake Erie on its northern border, Ohio is a wonderful location to paddle a kayak.

As with any endeavour, there are laws and rules to follow. Kayaking laws in Ohio are set and administered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (OHIODNR.gov). This article discusses those laws.

In brief, staying onside of Ohio kayaking laws requires: registering your boat, wearing a life vest, carrying lighting and emergency devices, and remaining sober. While not a law per se, exercising good judgement while on the water should sit atop this list.

Kayaking Laws in Ohio

Before we begin, please understand that this article is for informational purposes, only. It is not intended to officially deliver or interpret every law and statue governing kayaking in Ohio. I am not a lawyer. If you require a lawyer, then pull out your wallet and engage one.

Do you need to title and register a kayak in Ohio?

Kayaks in Ohio require registration. They do not require a title.

How do you acquire kayak registration in Ohio?

Take your kayak proof of ownership along with the boat’s hull I.D. (HIN) or serial number, boat length, and ‘OH” number (if available) to a boat registration agent.

Proof of kayak ownership may include any of the following:

  • Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin
  • Boat dealer’s bill of sale
  • Previous registration form
  • Notarized receipt

Where can you locate a boat registration agent?

Boat registration agents are located throughout the state of Ohio. They can include private businesses, DNR offices and title offices.

To locate a boat registration agent near you, use the Boat Registration Agent search tool on the ohiodnr.gov website.

How much money does it cost to register a kayak?

As of early 2022, the fee to register a kayak, canoe, rowboat, inflatable boat, or pedal boat is about $20 for traditional registration and $25 for alternative registration.

With traditional registration, you provide /apply/display your OH number. In turn, you receive two registration decals.

With alternative registration, you do not provide an OH number and you receive a single decal.

The fees you pay to register your kayak are deposited in the Waterways Safety Fund.

All registrations fees include a $3 writing fee payable to the agent that administers the paperwork.

How do you display registration decals on your kayak?

Traditional registration If your boat has an OH number (if it’s a kayak, it probably won’t), that number will remain with it for its life.

OH numbers are to be displayed on the port and starboard front of the boat. The number reads left-to-right. You can use vinyl letters or even paint them on.

Six inches back from the numbers (towards the stern), the Ohio Registration Decal should be displayed. The two decals you received at registration are identical and should be displayed on each side of the boat.

Decals show the expiration date of registration and are good for up to three years.

Alternative registration Most manually-propelled vessels don’t need to display an OH number. This includes kayaks registered under the Alternative registration framework.

Similarly, boats don’t need to display OH numbers if they are: numbered by another state (not used for more than 60 days in Ohio), visiting boats from another country, vessels under a waiver, as well as a select few other exemptions.

The single registration decal for a kayak registered under the Alternative framework is to be affixed:

  • In the upper right corner of the transom (if applicable and practical)
  • On a deck on the rear half of the vessel
  • On the outside below the port side gunnel, or
  • On the inside of the vessel on the upper portion of the starboard side gunnel, so that it is visible from the port side vessel

Ohio kayaking laws require that it be clearly visible in normal conditions and affixed prior to operating on the water.

Evidence of registration is shown by displaying the rectangular tag. Kayakers with an alternative registration have 72 hours to produce the valid registration certificate, if required.

Kayaks don’t require a title, correct?

Correct. Canoes or kayaks of any length that are manually propelled, or with a fixed motor less than 10 horsepower do not need a title.

For more information on titling and registration, contact Division of Parks & Watercraft Titling Section at 877-4BOATER or 614-265-6480.

Required Kayaking Equipment in Ohio

What education is required to operate a kayak in Ohio?

You do not need to take a course or obtain a license to operate a self-propelled kayak in Ohio.

To operate a powercraft powered by more than 10 horsepower requires successful completion of:

  • A boating course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators
  • A proficiency exam approved by the ODNR Division of Watercraft

Additional supervision requirements exist for youth operating powercraft and personal watercrafts in the state of Ohio.

Youth aged 12 years or older may legally operate a kayak, including one with a trolling motor of 10hp or less, if the youth is under direct visual and audible supervision of a supervising person. This supervising person is not required to be on board the vessel.

Do Ohio kayaking laws require you to wear a lifejacket/PFD on a kayak?

Hmmm. Well, kayaks are required to be equipped with a USCG-approved PFD for each individual on the vessel or vessel being towed.

The rule does not however, explicitly state that the PFD must be worn. In fact, it states that the PFD must be merely accessible.

But should each person wear a PFD at all times while on a kayak? Yes. Unambiguously so. And not just in Ohio.

The law does require that all children under 10 years of age wear a life jacket at all times, except on vessels longer than 18 feet in length.

For further color, each PFD should be:

  • U.S. Coast Guard approved
  • In serviceable condition
  • Appropriately-sized to the wearer
  • Readily-accessible to each person aboard the watercraft

Does your kayak need lights in Ohio?

No. And yes.

Vessel under oars A kayak is considered a ‘vessel under oars’. This means that it is not required to paddle with the running lights of larger, motorized boats. A kayak may install running lights (the quality of which must be coast guard approved), but it doesn’t have to.

It must, however, have an ‘electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light in sufficient time to prevent collision’.

This torch can take any form, including a simple amply powered flashlight.

The spirit of the rule is that boaters need time to avoid collision. While kayaks move slowly, motorboats don’t. So, the brighter the light on your kayak, the more time you give motorboats to see you and avoid you.

Kayaks at anchor If your kayak is anchored at night, kayaking laws in Ohio require that a white light be visible all around the horizon of the boat.

Must you equip you kayak an anchor in Ohio?

No. Kayaks are exempt from the requirement to carry an anchor as well as the line needed to operate it.

Do kayaking laws in Ohio require a fire extinguisher on your kayak?

No. Kayaks are exempt from the requirement to carry fire extinguishers.

Furthermore, personal kayaks of less than 26’ in length (and really, all kayaks are less than 26’ in length), powered by an open construction outboard motor are also not required to stow a fire extinguisher.

Powercraft that are 26’ in length or more are required to carry fire extinguishers. The bigger the vessel, the more fire extinguishers that are required.

Coe Lake Ohio

How do I get emergency help while paddling a kayak in Ohio?

Visual Distress Signals

Kayakers paddling a kayak that is greater than 16’ in length (that’s a really long kayak) on federally controlled water, such as Lake Erie or the immediately connecting bays, harbors and anchorage areas require a Coast Guard-approved visual distress signal.

In practice, to the extent that you paddle on large bodies of water, its wise to stow a visual distress signal even if your kayak is less than 16’ in length

Though not required, all kayaks should carry a distress flag of at least two square feet in international orange color <or> and approved daytime distress signal.

Even though kayaks less than 6’ in length are exempt from carrying daytime distress signals, they are still required to carry an electric distress signal for nighttime use between sunset and sunrise.

For further color, distress signals should be:

  • U.S. Coast Guard approved
  • In serviceable condition
  • Easily accessible
  • Of appropriate type and in sufficient quantity

By the way, if you display a distress signal and you aren’t actually in distress, you’ll get in a lot of trouble. Just saying….

Sound Signals

Kayaks are obliged to either carry a sound device or have some capacity to produce an efficient sound signal, while paddling on Lake Erie, the Ohio River or the Muskingum River.

An appropriate sound device could include a whistle, horn or other device.

Calling the Coast Guard

If you require immediate emergency services while paddling on Lake Erie, call the Coast Guard.

To do so, you require a two-way marine VHF radio operating on frequencies between 156 to 174 MHz. The particular hand-held unit you require should be waterproof and fit inside your life vest.

A call to the Coast Guard should go as follows:

1. Turn VHF radio to Channel 16 – known as the ‘hailing’ frequency.

2. “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.” Say it three times.

3. “This is blue kayak. Blue kayak. Blue kayak.” Use either the name of your boat or some other identifying feature. Say it three times.

4. “At one mile off Turkey Point with 90 degree bearing.” If you know your GPS co-ordinates, announce them. Otherwise use a landmark and compass bearing.

5. “I have lost my kayak in the water”. State the nature of the emergency.

6. “Require immediate rescue”. State the type of assistance you need.

7. “Two people. One blue kayak.” State the number of people involved.

8. “This is blue kayak. This is blue kayak.” Repeat two times.

9. “Over.”

10. Wait 15 seconds. If there is no response, repeat the entire message.

Hopefully you’ll never need to follow this Coast Guard communication template.

Can you drink alcohol while paddling a kayak in Ohio?

No person is allowed to overtly and publicly consume or display the presence of any beer or intoxicating liquor on any watercraft in Ohio State Parks. If this sounds like legalese, that’s because it is.

Ohio law states that it is against the law to operate any vessel while under the influence if alcohol or drugs.

For further clarity, it is an offense to operate a vessel while having a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08 or more.

If you are operating a boat in Ohio, you are deemed to have given consent to a blood, breath or urine test to determine alcohol or drug content. A person under arrest who refuses to submit to a chemical test will be prohibited from operating a boat for the next 12 months.

In connection, the person’s vessel registration certificate and tags will be impounded for the 12-month period.

Can you carry and operate a firearm from your kayak?

If you are legally licensed to carry a concealed handgun in Ohio, then you may do so. Absent the required license, any firearm must be transported unloaded and carried in a closed package, box or case <or> in plain sight with the action open or weapon stripped.

If you are legally engaged in hunting, with the necessary permits, and while following all hunting regulations, then you can discharge a firearm while on a vessel. Technically.

Remember that concealed carry laws are different than those of Ohio in other states. Furthermore, handguns are completely restricted in Canada.

What do you do if you have a collision while in your kayak?

Typically, kayak-to-kayak collisions happen at laughably low speeds and don’t result in damage or injury. Heck, half the time they happen on purpose because kids sometimes do dumb things. Adults too.

Kayak-to-powercraft collisions can be different, resulting in both damage and personal injury.

In the event of a collision, the operator of the vessel shall render assistance, to the extent safe, possible and practical.

Anyone that renders assistance at the scene of an accident involving a vessel in Ohio is not liable for damages in a civil action, except for ‘willful or wanton misconduct’.

The operator of the vessel shall stop and remain at the scene of the collision, insofar as it is safe to do so. The operator shall give their name and address, as well as the boat owner’s name and address (if different), and registration number, to any person injured or person that is otherwise impacted by damage.

If damages are greater than $500, or personal injury (or even death) results from the collision, kayaking laws in Ohio require the operator to file a Boat Accident Report and submit it to the Recreational Boating Accident Manger at the Ohio DNR, Division of Watercraft. A police officer will file the form if the vessel operator is unable.

Can you sleep in your kayak in Ohio?

Even if you are physically capable of doing this, the answer is still a hard no. No boat operator shall sleep at night aboard a vessel adrift, at anchor, docked, moored, tied-up or beached.

There are designated boat camping areas where sleeping on a boat is technically allowed. In practice, sleeping in a kayak is ill-advised, not to mention difficult to execute, even in permitted areas.

Parting thoughts about kayak laws in Ohio

With over 60,000 lakes and reservoirs and more than 3,300 named rivers and streams, Ohio is a terrific place to kayak.

Learning the laws, rules and regulations governing the sport will help you and your neighbours enjoy all that Ohio has to offer, in the way of water trail adventures.

You are viewing this post: Kayaking Laws in OHIO. The Rules You Actually Need to Know. Information curated and compiled by Kayaknv.com along with other related topics.


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