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It is illegal in the state of Ohio to operate any boat, or manipulate any waterskis or similar device, without due caution, in a heedless or careless manner, so as to endanger the life, limb or property of any person.

No person shall operate or permit operation of a boat in an unsafe manner.

Unsafe or reckless boat operation may include:

  • Weaving through congested boat traffic.
  • Operating less than 200 feet behind a water-skier.
  • Operating at a speed or proximity to a boat or person being towed so as to require either boat to swerve to avoid collision.
  • Becoming airborne while crossing the wake of another boat when within 100 feet or at an unsafe distance from the other boat.

Unsafe Condition and Termination

A law enforcement officer may determine that an unsafe condition presents an especially hazardous condition to persons aboard a boat and may direct the operator to take immediate, reasonable actions to correct the situation. This includes directing the operator to return a boat 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.

‘Unsafe conditions’ include:

  • Insufficient life jackets on board.
  • Insufficient fire extinguishers on board.
  • Overloading a boat.
  • Insufficient freeboard for the water conditions in which the  boat 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

No person shall operate or permit the operation of a boat without sufficient control to avoid an incident that results in:

  • Property damage.
  • Physical injury.
  • Loss of life.
  • Any combination of the above.

Sitting, Standing, Walking on Moving Vessels Restricted

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 downing 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.

Within the area of their jurisdiction, Ohio’s boating laws are enforced by:

  • Sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, marshals, deputy marshals, municipal police officers, township police constables, wildlife officers, park or conservancy district officers, or other law enforcement officers.

Ohio's Law Enforcement Authority

Law enforcement officers in Ohio have the authority to stop, inspect and board any recreational boat.

Stopping or Yielding to Law Enforcement Vessels

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

It is illegal to:

  • Fail to comply with any lawful order of an officer having authority to direct or regulate the operation or use of boats.
  • Purposely elude or flee from an officer after a visible or audible signal to bring the boat to a stop is given.
  • Operate a boat that creates a wake within 100 feet of a stopped law enforcement boat with a blue flashing light.
  • Operate a boat that creates a wake within 100 feet of a public service boat displaying a red and yellow alternating flashing light.
  • Permit the operation of a boat in violation of this section.

Ohio’s Public Service Vessels

Public service vessels are boats that are escorting or patrolling special water events, traffic control, salvage, firefighting, medical aid, assisting disabled boats or search and rescue. You are responsible for any damage or injury caused by your wake. Either steer well clear of these boats or pass at idle speed.

Ohio’s Special Activities Permit

No person shall conduct any special activity on Ohio State Park waters without obtaining a permit 30 days prior to the anticipated event.