Outdoor recreation can play a vital role in protecting our natural resources. When you register your boat, you do your part in sustaining resources that promote safe and responsible use of our nation's waters. Your registration dollars also help pay for marinas, boat ramps, lake clean up and much more.


The Ohio DNR is responsible for regulating the state boating laws in Ohio.


Numbering of watercraft and registering a watercraft are two separate functions. No person shall operate any watercraft without a valid registration. Evidence of registration is shown by displaying a rectangular tag (hand-powered exemption from numbering option) and carrying the valid registration certificate on board the vessel.

All boats principally operated on Ohio waters must be registered and issued an Ohio Registration Form by the Ohio Division of Watercraft. The following vessels do not require registration:

  • Vessels which are not required to be numbered, excluding documented vessels.
  • Vessels which are properly registered in another state and operating the waters of Ohio for less than 60 days consecutively.
  • Commercial vessels.

New owners of a used boat must transfer the registration before operating the vessel. To transfer the registration, simply ask the previous owner to complete the 'transfer' section and bring that 'transfer' section along with the previous registration form (even if the registration has not yet expired) to any vessel registration agent. If a boat requiring a title is transferred to a new owner, the vessel may be operated for up to 45 days before being titled in the new owner's name provided the new owner carries either of the following onboard:

  • A temporary watercraft registration from an authorized registration agent;
  • A bill of sale from a watercraft dealer containing the required information.

*Registration Certificates and tags are valid for up to 3 years and expire on March 1st of the year indicated.


The owner of a hand-powered canoe, rowboat or inflatable watercraft may choose to do either of the following:

  • Have it numbered, pay a lesser registration fee, and obtain square tags; or;
  • Not have it numbered, pay a higher registration fee, and obtain a rectangular tag.

The owner of a hand-powered canoe, rowboat (including racing shells and rowing sculls) or inflatable watercraft that is exempted from numbering shall securely affix the assigned rectangular tag to the vessel in one of the following manners:

  • In the upper right corner of the transom;
  • On a deck on the rear half of the vessel;
  • On the outside below the port side gunnel; or
  • On the inside of the vessel on the upper portion
  • On the starboard side gunnel so that it is visible from the port side of the vessel.

Note: Do not use this alternate registration method if there is a possibility of ever using a motor or sail with this vessel. This registration can be issued and renewed through Columbus Watercraft Headquarters or selected field offices.

Watercraft exempt from registration are:

  • those exempt from numbering EXCEPT documented vessels;
  • those issued a commercial documentation and used exclusively for commercial purposes;
  • vessels meeting another state's registration system requirements which are used in Ohio for less than 60 days.


Documentation is a federal registration system administered by the United States Coast Guard. Boats must be at least 5 net tons to be eligible, which is roughly 30 feet or more in length.

No person shall operate a documented vessel unless the certificate of documentation is valid and available for inspection. The vessel must display the official number, the vessel name and home port.

Documented vessels must be registered in Ohio and display two Ohio tags, but they are not assigned an Ohio number.


Please note that the boat owner must obtain their boat title before they can obtain their certificate of number. To obtain a boat title the owner of the vessel must contact the Ohio DNR, Division of Watercraft. The following vessels require titling in the state of Ohio:

  • All vessels which are more than 14 feet in length
  • All vessels which are less than 14 feet in length which are permanently fitted with a motor of 10 hp or more.

Note: Outboard motors which are 10 hp or more are also required to be titled.

Some watercraft listed above and on the previous page may not have needed a title when it was originally purchased. Prior to selling the watercraft, however, the owner must apply to a title office and obtain a title. These include:

  • Vessels or outboards purchased on or before October 9, 1963;
  • Vessels less than 14 feet in length with a permanently affixed mechanical means of propulsion of 10 horsepower or greater and purchased on or before January 1, 2000.

Certain vessels such as the following are not required to obtain a Certificate of Title:

  • U.S. Coast Guard documented vessels.
  • Vessels owned by federal, state or municipal governments
  • Canoes and kayaks
  • Motors which are less than 10 hp
  • Vessels from another country
  • Vessels less than 14 feet in length without a permanently affixed mechanical means of propulsion;
  • Vessels less than 14 feet in length with a permanently affixed mechanical means of propulsion of less than 10 horsepower;
  • A ship's life boat


Every vessel operated on Ohio water shall be numbered by this state or in compliance with their own state numbering system and shall properly display the assigned number.

The following vessels are exempt from the Ohio numbering requirement:

  • U.S. Coast Guard documented vessels.
  • Vessels which are properly numbered in another state and operating the waters of Ohio for less than 60 days consecutively.
  • Vessel from out of country who are temporarily using Ohio water;
  • Vessels owned by federal, state or municipal governments
  • A ship's lifeboat
  • Vessels granted exemption by the chief of the Division of Watercraft;
  • Vessels under a waiver issued for a race or special event;
  • Canoes, rowboats, and inflatable watercraft that are registered and that an owner chooses not to have numbered.


The fees paid to register a boat are deposited in the Waterways Safety Fund, which is used to operate Ohio's boating program. All registration fees include a writing fee which goes to the agent where you buy your registration. Ohio's boat registrations are renewed triennially, which means decals are valid for three years. Registration certificates and tags expire on March 1 of the year indicated and are to be removed when they become invalid (expired).


Successful registration results in a Certificate of Number, physical boat numbers and a decal. The number assigned is in three parts beginning with "OH" followed by four numbers and two letters.

The number shall:

  • be placed on each side of the forward half of the watercraft;
  • read from left to right;
  • be in block characters of good proportion;
  • be a minimum of three inches in height;
  • contrast with the background or boat color;
  • be separated by a hyphen or equivalent space between the prefix and suffix;
  • be maintained to be clearly visible and legible.

*No other numerals or letters may be displayed on the bow.

For example: OH 1234 BX or OH-1234-BX. This is a federal and state requirement.

Two registration tags are issued with each traditional boat registration. On numbered boats the owner shall securely affix the tags on each side of the bow six inches toward the stern from the number.

The tags must be clearly visible in normal conditions and affixed prior to operation of the watercraft. Documented boats must display one tag on the port side and one on the starboard side.

*Content provided by www.BoaterExam.com