Summer and boating seem to go together, especially on the Fourth of July. Having fun on a river or lake with friends and family creates the setting for wonderful summer memories. In order to make sure that those memories are not marred by accidents, injuries or other tragedies, however, it is important to remember some basic boat safety and to understand the laws that govern boating particularly on the Ohio River. The Ohio River is unique in that it may be governed by Ohio law, Kentucky law or the maritime laws of the United States, which means that boaters are required to comply with all United States Coast Guard requirements, depending on the circumstances.
Firstly, it is important to remind boaters that operating a watercraft while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is not only extremely dangerous but it is also illegal in most states. Drinking while boating can be particularly problematic because often boaters are dehydrated from being out in the sun all day which can cause alcohol to affect the body more strongly. Secondly, while it is ideal for all passengers on a water craft to wear a life vest, it is extremely important that children always wear a life vest; not only will it help them to stay afloat, but it will also make them visible in the water- both to assist in rescuing them should they fall overboard and to ensure that other boaters can see that they are in the water. When trying on a life jacket for a child, always check that it is snug and if you pick the child up by the shoulders of the life jacket, be sure that their chin does not slip down through the vest; this ensures that you have a proper-fitting vest.
Also, with regard to children and minors, it is against the law on the Ohio River for any child under the age of twelve to operate any personal watercraft at any time. A child aged twelve to fifteen requires an education permit and a person who is eighteen or older to be on the personal watercraft with them to operate. Minors who are sixteen or older only need to have the education permit in order to operate a personal watercraft. Minors who are at least twelve years of age may operate a manual watercraft such as a kayak or canoe. When it comes to powered watercraft other than personal watercraft children under twelve generally need direct audible and visual supervision of someone over eighteen but are not required to have an educational permit, though it is recommended for all minors who are operating any manner of watercraft. A boater who was born on or after January 1, 1982 is subject to Ohio’s mandatory Boater Education Law which requires the completion of a boating course or proficiency exam in order to operate a boat powered by more than ten horsepower.
With regard to general boating safety and regulations, it is important to know where “no wake zones” are as they are strictly enforced, especially on holiday weekends. On the Ohio River, a watercraft must travel at idle speed if it is within 300 feet of a marina, gas dock or launching area and any non-commercial watercraft must travel at idle speed between sunset and sunrise. This is an important change in the laws governing the Ohio River as Kentucky law used to only require a 100 foot no wake zone. Remember also to operate your boat in accordance with the following simple regulations for general boating use: a boat traveling downstream has the right of way over a boat traveling upstream, recreational boats must yield to commercial boats, when traveling in narrow channels, always stay as close to the right side of the channel as possible and finally, boats which are leaving a launch or tie-up point are required to yield to those boats which are coming in.
Also note that all recreational boats in Ohio, including manually-powered boats such as kayaks, require registration which can be obtained online or in person. Finally, while it is not a law, it is recommended that all boaters install on their boats a ship-to-shore radio which can assist rescuers and emergency personnel in rendering aid should you find yourself in trouble out on the water.
Boating is fun, relaxing and a great way to build summer memories; if everyone obeys laws, regulations and uses their common sense, the waterways can be a fun and enjoyable place for everyone to use. Click here for more information on boating on the Ohio River.