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What You Should Know About Ohio Kayak Laws (2022)

Ohio is a water sports haven, owing to its Midwestern location among the Great Lakes of the United States.

There are over 3,300 rivers and streams and more than 60,000 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs in the Great State of Ohio.

The Ohio River forms the state’s southern border and takes up at least three-quarters of the state’s surface area.

With so many rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, and creaks, Ohio has a lot to offer water sports veterans and beginners.

You can swim, boat and fish during the summer months and come back for ice skating, snowballing, and ice fishing during winter when most of the lakes are frozen. 

For these reasons, Ohio is the best place to enjoy recreational kayaking for hobbyists and heart-pumping kayaking for enthusiasts.

Kayaking is also a fantastic way to tour and explore the beautiful scenes in Ohio. 

However, it would help if you did not get into it blindly.

You need to understand the rules and regulations set by the state to protect you, other people, and their property, plus the environment.

This article summarizes Ohio Kayak laws to ensure you are safe on the water at all times.

men kayaking on lake

Kayak Registration and Titling Laws

Anyone using their personal kayak on Ohio waters must register the kayak with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Non-motorized kayaks do not need to be titled, and you can register them with Alternative Registration that is valid for three years.

However, motorized kayaks require Traditional Registration, valid for three years, and have to be titled.

You must display your registration sticker on the boat and carry a copy of the registration with you whenever you are on the vessel.

There are several kayak registration exemptions, including.

  • Visitors are welcome to use kayaks legally registered in other states on Ohio waters for up to 60 days. This is on condition that you abide by the rules of your home state and comply with Ohio’s boating rules and laws. Additionally, you need to carry the primary state’s registration proof and proof of residency whenever you are on Ohio waters.
  • You must not register your kayak in Ohio if you are coming to participate in a kayaking competition from another state in the United States. This applies if you are in Ohio for 60 days or less.

Age and Education Restrictions

In Ohio, you should use a boating license as proof of completion of an official boating safety course.

It shows that you have competent boating skills to operate a boat safely on Ohio’s public waterways.

It is a must-have for all boaters born on or after Jan 1, 1982, who use motorized kayaks or other vessels with more than ten horsepower.

Additionally, only boaters of age 12 and above can operate any vessels unsupervised on Ohio waters.

Persons between the age of 12 and 15 can only operate personal watercraft (PWC) under the supervision of certified personnel who are 18 years and above.

Alcohol (OUI) Restrictions

The Ohio law prohibits the operation of any water vessels while under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

Nobody can operate any vessel on the water when they are physically or mentally incapable of doing so safely and competently. 

A kayak operator is considered to be under the influence (OUI) or intoxicated if their blood alcohol content (BAC) reads 0.08%.

Operators under 21 years of age violate the code if their BAC is 0.02% or more. 

Being a kayak operator means you consent to chemical tests like urine, blood, and breath tests.

Thus, you must cooperate with law enforcement officers.

Failure to consent to the tests is an offense that could make you prohibited from operating and registering vessels for one year. 

An OUI offense can attract either a fine or jail term.

The minimum penalty is 3-days jail time or a $150 fine for a first-time offender, while the maximum penalty is a 1-year jail time or $1000 fine for third-time offenders.

Life Jacket Laws

Every vessel on Ohio waters must have a wearable United States Coast Guard (USCG) personal floatation device (PFD) for every person on board.

Children under the age of 10 must have their USCG-approved PFD at all times when aboard a kayak or any water vessel that’s not more than 18 feet long.  

Ohio boaters on vessels 26 feet or longer must carry at least one USCG-approved Type IV Throwable PFD, either a seat cushion or ring buoy.

These strict guidelines can be interpreted as a safety concern, seeing that kayaks and canoes are the second leading causes of fatalities of Ohio waterways.

Light and Signal Laws

Kayak operators must have a waterproof battery-powered lantern or electric white light to illuminate their way after dark.

The light should be bright enough to ensure other boaters can see you to avoid a collision.

Red and green sidelights that are visible within one mile are also useful. 

Visual distress signals are not compulsory on most Ohio lakes and rivers.

However, boaters must carry a two square feet orange distress flag or USCG-approved daytime distress signal.

On the other hand, vessels 16 feet or longer, operating on federally controlled waters, specifically Lake Erie and its immediate connecting harbors, bays, and anchorages areas, must carry a U.S Coast Guard-approved distress signal between sunset and sunrise.

The signal should be readily accessible, in pristine condition, and can only be used when a person or vessel is in trouble. 

Alternatively, you can use a blinking flashlight or flare as distress signals when in trouble.

Audible Signaling Devices

An audible signaling device or noisemaker is essential for all non-motorized and motorized vessels less than 12 feet when navigating the Ohio River, the Muskingum River, or Lake Erie.

The sound device must produce an efficient sound signal that lasts 4-6 seconds and is audible for half a mile.

Examples of acceptable sounding devices include a lifeguard, athletic/police whistle, or a handheld or installed horn.

A human voice will not work.

Fire Extinguisher Requirements

You are not required to have a fire extinguisher onboard if you are operating a motorized or unmotorized open-construction kayak less than 26 feet long.

However, it does not hurt to prepare for the unknown by having a small class B-I fire extinguisher onboard.

Accident Reporting Requirements

The law dictates that a recreational water vessel operator must submit a writer Recreational Boating Accident Report when involved in an accident that leads to:

  • Death of a person or their disappearance
  • Injuries that require more than first aid
  • Damage of property exceeding $500 or total loss of the vessel

The accident forms are available at the Watercraft Field Office or on their website.

The boat operator, within five days, should duly fill these forms.

But in the event of loss of life, the operator must file a report within 24 hours.

If the boat operator is incapable, an officer should proceed to fill and file the form.

The information on the forms captures statistical data that reveals the effectiveness of boating regulations and safety standards, investigate accidents, and determine and remedy boat defects.

Ohio Kayaking Law Enforcement

A park or conservancy officer, wildlife officer, township police constable, municipal police officer, marshal, deputy marshal, sheriff, or deputy sheriff can enforce Ohio’s watercraft regulations.

You should never flee from (purposely elude) or fail to comply with any law or enforcement officials.

The law also states that you must stop and give way to law enforcement vessels approaching a blue flashing light.

Additional Ohio Kayak Laws

  • Boaters should operate kayaks with due caution and prudence at all times. Operators shall not disregard the safety or rights of any person, property, or vessel.
  • The authority prohibits you from throwing litter on land, a water bank, or in a waterway where the waves can wash it back into the water. 
  • To reduce boating injuries and fatalities, you cannot sit, stand, or walk-in areas not designated for those movements. That’s except when it is vital for safe navigation or operation. 


These are the official Ohio Kayak laws that are in place to protect people, property, vessels, and the environment at all times.

Now that you know these laws, you can confidently and safely navigate the thousands of lakes and waterways available in Ohio. 

You can start preparing for some kayaking in the summer.

Don’t forget to purchase and pack all the equipment you will need, including the PFDs, lights, spare paddle, hat or helmet, visible and audible signals.