Ohio Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regulations)


Ohio Kayaking Laws - Rules and Regulations

Ohio kayak laws are set and governed by the Ohio Department Of Natural Resources and almost any law enforcement officer in Ohio with jurisdiction may enforce those kayaking rules and regulations.

Ohio has a plethora of large rivers and bodies of water perfect for water sports and vesseling. With access to Lake Erie and the Ohio River, it’s not surprising that Ohio is popular for boating, kayaking, and other water vessel activities.

Here’s a summary of what you need to know about Ohio kayak laws.

Legal Disclaimer: This article was written for informational purposes only. I am not an attorney and am not giving legal advice. If you have specific questions about your state’s laws, you should consult a local attorney.

Ohio Kayak Laws Summary

  • Ohio Kayaking Laws – Ohio law considers kayaks and canoes to be non-motorized watercraft.
  • Ohio Kayak Registration – All kayaks and canoes must be registered but do not require a title.
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – Watercraft with an outboard motor less than 10 horsepower must be registered but are exempt from titling. This includes a trolling motor on a canoe or kayak.
  • Kayak Operator Licensing in Ohio – No person born on or after January 1, 1982, shall operate a vessel powered by more than 10 horsepower without a certificate from a NASBLA approved boating course or proficiency exam approved by the Ohio Department Of Natural Resources.
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – Operators must be at least 12 years old to operate any vessel on the waters of Ohio without direct supervision by someone 18 years or older.  (See below for further restrictions)
  • Kayaking BUI Law – Ohio has an Operating Under the Influence (OUI) law. A person is operating illegally when their blood alcohol content is .08% or above or they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. (see below for more information)
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – All vessels must be equipped with a wearable, USCG approved PFD for each person on board. (see below for kayak and canoe specifics)
  • Kayak Lights Law – All vessels are required to display running lights while underway or at anchor between sunset and sunrise.
  • Kayaking Sounding Devices – Kayaks and canoes do not need to carry a sounding device in Ohio unless on Lake Erie, the Ohio River, or the Muskingum River. Motorized vessels do require a sounding device. (see below for regulations)
  • Kayaking VDS Law – Lake Erie, the Ohio River, and the Muskingum River all require Visual Distress Signals (VDS) on board.

That only summarizes Ohio boating laws applied to kayaking and canoeing. The details are more in-depth and specific. Read on to find out how to paddle legally in Ohio.

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Ohio Kayak Registration

Non-Motorized

Do you have to register a kayak in Ohio? Yes. Canoes or kayaks of any length do not require a title, but must be registered with a boat registration agent and display their assigned OH number and tags.Ohio Boat Operators Guide Registration ChartOpens in a new tab.

Motorized

Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Ohio? Yes. All watercraft must be registered and display an OH number and designated tags. If the trolling motor has more than 10 horsepower, it must also be titled. Registrations are valid for up to three years and expire March 1st of the year indicated.

Titling

Ohio Vessel Titling: All watercraft with a motor more than 10 horsepower must title their vessels. Canoes and kayaks do not need to be titled unless they have a motor. There are many other exceptions to this, as explained by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Registration Resources

Ohio Department of Natural Resources page – Registering Your Boat In Ohio pageOpens in a new tab.

Related Article: Paddle Board Registration

Ohio Kayaking Operator Education Laws

Non-Motorized

Do you need a license to kayak in Ohio? You do not need a license to operate a kayak or canoe in Ohio. Kayaks and canoes with no attached motor do not require operator licensing or education.

Motorized

Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in Ohio? To operate any motorized vessel with more than 10 horsepower, any person born on or after January 1st, 1982 must have a certificate of completion from a boating course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA), or from a proficiency exam approved by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft.

Youth

Operators must be at least 12 years old to operate any vessel on the waters of Ohio without direct supervision by someone 18 years or older. Operation of a personal watercraft by someone under 16 years of age is prohibited unless supervised by a certified person. Operators of any powercraft with 10 horsepower or more must be at least 12 years old and under direct supervision by a certified person.

Ohio Kayaking OUI Laws

Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Ohio? Yes you can get a DUI on a kayak in Ohio. In Ohio, it’s against the law to operate any vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You can get the equivalent of a DUI, an OUI (Operating under the Influence) in Ohio with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08%. Operating a vessel means that you have consented to chemical tests to determine drug or alcohol content if arrested.

Related Article: Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak?

Ohio Kayak Life Jacket Laws

Do you need a life jacket to kayak in Ohio? Yes. All vessels must have one United States Coast Guard approved wearable personal flotation device for each person on board. And all persons under 10 years of age, when aboard a vessel under 18 feet long, must wear a PFD.

Ohio PFD Details:

  • All vessels must be equipped with a USCG approved PFD for each person on board or being towed.
  • All vessels have at least one PFD that is USCG–approved, wearable, and of the proper size for each person on board. 

PFD Age Laws

What age do you have to wear a life jacket in Ohio? All children 10 years of age or younger on any vessel under 18 feet in length must wear a PFD. Exceptions are children onboard vessels over 18 feet in length. 

Type IV Throwable PFD

Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in Ohio? No. Only vessels 26 feet in length or longer are required to carry a “throwable” on board.

Related Article: Kayak Life Jacket Laws by State (50 State List)

Ohio Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night? Powered Vessels (kayaks and/or canoes with a trolling motor) less than 12 meters in length (39.4 feet) must have the white masthead light and stern light visible for 2 miles. The red and green sidelights must be visible for 1 mile.

While anchored, a white light visible all around is the only one necessary.

Unpowered vessels must carry a white lantern or flashlight that can be seen with sufficient time to avoid collision. This applies to kayakers and canoeists on unpowered vessels.

Ohio Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Ohio? Kayaks and canoes do not need to carry a sounding device in Ohio, unless on Lake Erie, the Ohio River, or the Muskingum River. If so, a device capable of making an efficient sound signal is necessary. All motorized vessels under 12 meters in length must also carry a sounding device capable of efficient sound to avoid collision.

The best “sounding” device for kayakers and canoeists is a whistle attached to your PFD in a place that’s quick and easy to deploy.

VDS – Visual Distress Signaling Devices

Lake Erie and the immediately connecting bays, harbors, and anchorage areas are the only bodies of water that require USCG approved Visual Distress Signals (VDS).

Night Signals

Between sunset and sunrise all vessels on Lake Erie and immediately connecting bays, harbors, and anchorage have to have night VSD on board. The distress signals should be USCG approved, in good and serviceable condition, and readily accessible. One electric distress signal is necessary.

Day Signals

Non motorized vessels are exempt from carrying day distress signals.

Ohio Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Ohio? No. Even if you have a trolling motor on your kayak, if the kayak is less than 26 feet in length, powered by an outboard motor, and of open construction, you aren’t required to have a fire extinguisher.

Regardless of the law, we recommend carrying a small class B-I fire extinguisher if you have a trolling motor on your kayak or canoe. The worst thing in the world is a fire on a boat with no way to put it out, especially if you’re far from the shore.

Additional Ohio Kayaking Laws Resources

Boating Law Enforcement

Any sheriff, deputy sheriff, marshal, deputy marshal, municipal police officer, township police constable, wildlife officer, park or conservancy officer, or any other law enforcement officer within their jurisdiction may enforce Ohio’s watercraft laws.

As always, USCG officers enforce federally controlled waters like Lake Erie in Ohio.

Steve W

I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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