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Ohio Boat Registration

Certificate of Title

You must hold a Certificate of Title if you wish to sell, purchase or otherwise acquire any of the following in Ohio: 

  • an outboard motor of 10 horsepower or greater;
  • a watercraft 14 feet or greater in length;
  • a watercraft less than 14 feet in length with a permanently affixed mechanical means of propulsion of 10 horsepower or greater.

Watercraft exempt from the titling requirement: 

  • vessels documented by the US Coast Guard
  • canoes and kayaks
  • 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
  • ship's lifeboat
  • boats owned by government agencies
  • motors less than 10 horsepower

Some vessels that may not have needed a title when they were originally purchased now need one. The owner must apply to an Ohio title office and obtain a title before selling a vessel:

  • boats or outboard motors acquired on or before October 9, 1963;
  • watercraft less than 14 feet long with a permanently affixed mechanical means of propulsion of 10 horsepower or greater and purchased on or before January 1, 2000.

Numbering of watercraft

Watercraft operated on Ohio water shall be numbered by this state or in compliance with their own state numbering system, and shall properly display the assigned number.

The following vessels are exempt from numbering in Ohio:

  • vessels documented by the US Coast Guard
  • 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  
  • boats owned by the United States
  • a ship's lifeboat.  
  • vessels exempted by the chief of the Division of Watercraft
  • vessels used for a race or special event
  • manually-propelled vessels that are registered under ORC 1547.54 (alternative registration).

Registration of watercraft

Registration Ohio

No person shall operate any watercraft without a valid registration. Proof of registration is shown by displaying two square registration decals or a rectangular decal (Alternative Registration for hand-powered vessels only) and carrying the valid registration certificate on board the vessel.

A new owner is obligated, before using the boat on the water, to take the previous registration form with the transfer section completed by the seller to any watercraft registration agent, even if the registration has not expired. If a boat needing a title is transferred to a new owner, you may operate it for no more than 45 days provided the new owner carries aboard one of the following:

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

Vessels exempt from Registration:  

  • kiteboards, paddleboards, sailboards and Belly boats or Float tubes;
  • vessels exempt from numbering EXCEPT documented vessels;
  • vessels issued commercial documentation and used exclusively for commercial purposes;
  • vessels meeting another state's registration system requirements which are used in Ohio for less than 60 days.

Kiteboard which is operated by a person standing on an inherently buoyant board and uses a kite as a means of propulsion and lift.

Paddleboard which is operated by a person kneeling, standing or lying on an inherently buoyant board and is propelled by a pole or single- or double-bladed paddle.

“Belly boat” or “float tube” which is an inflatable vessel operated by a person who remains partially submerged in the water and is propelled by muscular effort without using an oar, paddle or pole.

Sailboard was already previously exempted from registration by rule but is now included in the Ohio Revised Code. A sailboard is operated by a person standing on an inherently buoyant board and is propelled by a single sail mounted on the board.

Kiteboards, paddleboards and belly boats are required to carry the safety equipment as currently mandated under the law, including personal flotation devices. Operators of these types of vessels, along with sailboards, are also subject to follow the navigation rules and operating laws.

Documented Vessels  

Documentation is a form of national registration administered by the US Coast Guard and is useful for boats taken into international waters or other countries. Boats must be at least 5 net tons to be eligible, which is approximately 30 feet or more in length.

Unless the certificate of documentation is valid and available for inspection, no person may navigate with a documented vessel. The vessel must display the official number, the vessel name and home port.

Although they are not assigned an Ohio number, documented vessels must be registered in Ohio and they must display two Ohio decals.

Display of registration number and decal

Display registration number Ohio

The number assigned is in three parts beginning with "OH" followed by four numbers and two letters.

The number shall:

  • be placed on each side of the forward half of the watercraft;
  • read from left to right;
  • be in block characters of good proportion;
  • be a minimum of 3 inches in height;
  • be one color and contrast with the background or boat color;
  • be separated by a hyphen or equivalent space between the prefix and suffix;
  • be maintained to be clearly visible and legible.

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

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

The decals must be clearly visible in normal conditions and affixed prior to operation of the watercraft.

Documented boats must display one decal on the port side and one on the starboard side.

Validation decal Ohio

Expiration of Registration

Registration certificates and decals, including alternative registrations, are valid up to 3 years and expire on March 1 of the year indicated. All decals shall be removed when they expire. 

Alternative Registration

For Manually Propelled Watercrafts only

An owner of a hand-powered vessel (for example: canoe, kayak, rowboat, racing shell, rowing scull, or inflatable watercraft) may choose to do one of the following:

  1. Place numbers on the vessel, pay a lesser registration fee, and display a set of square tags (traditional registration); OR
  2. Not number the vessel, pay a higher registration fee, and display a single rectangular tag (alternative registration).

Alternative Registration Decal

Alternative registration decal

You must affix the Alternative Registration decal in one of the following manners:

  • in the upper right corner of the transom;
  • 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 of the vessel.

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

NOTE: Do not use this alternative registration method if there is a possibility of ever using a motor or an affixed sail with the vessel. This registration is issued and renewed through any ODNR Division of Watercraft office.