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Safe Boating in Ohio

What counts as reckless or negligent operation of a vessel?

You must not operate any vessel, water skis or any comparable devices:

  • 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

It is forbidden for anyone to drive or allow to be driven any vessel in a reckless manner including:

  • Becoming airborne while crossing the wake of another vessel within 100 feet or an 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

If you endanger persons or property, it could be construed as reckless boating. Anyone who operates a vessel with willful disregard for the safety of persons or property will be cited for reckless operation.

You must operate your vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner at all times.

What is "unsafe condition"?

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

If an unsafe condition presents an especially hazardous condition to persons aboard a vessel, a law enforcement officer may direct the operator to take immediate, reasonable actions to correct the situation. Refusal to cooperate is a violation of the Ohio Revised Code. 

What are restricted areas?

You must not operate a boat in designated ''swim areas'' or areas that are marked off with ''No Boats'' buoys. This includes zones where there are endangered species as well as above and below dams.

No wake zones

Speed limit laws apply for boats in certain areas and in certain situations. Special buoys mark the zones where these laws take effect. This includes areas where boating is restricted and in zones where no wake is tolerated.

"Idle Speed - No Wake" means you must operate at the minimum speed that allows the vessel to maintain headway and steerageway. The vessel's wake must not be excessive nor create a hazard to other vessels.

You must not operate your boat in over idle speed:

  • 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
  • From sunset to sunrise between the Dan Beard Bridge and the Brent Spence Bridge on the Ohio River, unless your vessel is documented as commercial by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Unless tending to the dive operation, you must not operate a vessel within 300 feet of a divers down flag.

Violating any of the above sections constitutes an offence.

Can my passengers sit on the bow?

Drowning after falling overboard is one of the leading causes related to boating fatalities. To reduce the risk of being thrown into the water, occupants must sit in seats that are designed for that purpose.

It is especially dangerous to ride the bow because large waves, a sudden change in course or and unexpected movement could throw a person overboard. If a person is thrown into the water, they risk being run over by the boat or being injured by the propeller.

To prevent unncessary accidents:

  • While a vessel is underway the occupants may not sit, stand or walk on any surface that is not designed for that purpose unless it is absolutely necessary to be able to navigate or operate in a reasonable and safe manner.
  • It is forbidden to allow any occupant to violate of this section.
  • It is forbidden to operate or allow anyone to operate any vessel in violation of this section.

Capacity Plate

  • It is strictly forbidden to operate or allow someone to drive a watercraft while exceeding the limits shown on the manufacturer's capacity plate.
  • When no capacity plate exists, you must not 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.
  • It is strictly forbidden to alter, remove, or deface any of the information that appears on the capacity plate.