History of the Division
Prior to the late 1800s most boating in Ohio was done out of necessity for transportation and commerce. The Ohio and Erie Canal, which became operative from Akron to Cleveland in 1827, provided Ohio with an economic boon as well as a link to needed resources. The Miami and Erie Canal, which comprised three canals (the Miami Canal running from Cincinnati to Dayton, the Miami Extension, and the Wabash and Erie Canal), was officially designated in 1849.
Boating as a recreational activity was popularized by sailing regattas held on Lake Erie in the late 1800s. The first international sailing regatta on the Great Lakes was held at Put-in-Bay in September 1871. The Inter-Lake Yachting Association (ILYA) was conceived in July 1884 at Put-in-Bay Harbor and was formally organized at a January 1885 meeting of the Cleveland Yachting Association and the Cleveland Canoe Club. Interest in regatta sailing races was so great that in 1900 carrier pigeons were dispatched from a boat at the finish line to fly the results to the Sandusky Star, the local evening newspaper.
For many Ohioans Lake Erie weekends were not a recreational option, so inland Ohioans flocked to the rivers for recreational boating and fishing opportunities. Popular family vacation destinations were the Maumee, Miami, Muskingum, Tuscarawas, and Ohio rivers, which provided ample opportunity to spend on-the-water time with family and friends.
Production of the first Evinrude outboard motor in 1909 opened the doors to modern recreational boating. In the 1920s the high cost of owning and operating powerboats relegated their recreational use to mostly wealthy individuals. The Depression of the 1930s tremendously slowed the growth of recreational boating, but following World War II the demand for leisure time activities dramatically increased.
At that time boat owners registered their boats locally, for a particular body of water — thus requiring multiple registrations for a single vessel if it was used in different bodies of water. Also after World War II sailing enjoyed a resurgence, with competitive racing becoming very popular.
Waterways Safety Fund Established in 1955; Division Begins in 1960
In response to the dramatic increase in the number of recreational boats following World War II, the 101st General Assembly created the Waterways Safety Fund in 1955 (Ohio Revised Code, Section 1545.75). The fund was originally administered by the Division of Shore Erosion and was established to provide monies for construction and improvement of public facilities for boating on the navigable waters within Ohio. The fund also enabled the state to obtain federal matching funds for the establishment of harbors of refuge.
In 1958 the Federal Boating Act was passed in Congress. This Act enabled the United States Coast Guard to develop and administer a uniform numbering system for all of the states and allowed for a single statewide registration. A statewide registration replaced multiple, local registrations. The 103rd Ohio General Assembly passed Amended Substitute House Bill 928 in 1959, conforming Ohio law to the concepts and objectives of the Federal Boating Act, and created the Division of Watercraft within the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The main functions of the Division, which became operative January 1, 1960, were to register boats and motors and to fund capital improvement projects such as launch ramps and marinas. Local political subdivisions and sister state agencies applied yearly for funds to build or improve boating facilities.
The enactment of House Bill 949 in 1960 made Ohio the first state in the nation to adopt a uniform system of buoy markers to designate controlled operation areas of waters used for recreational boating.
Ohio law established a Waterways Safety Commission consisting of four members who served without pay and acted in an advisory capacity to the Administrator of the Division of Watercraft. In 1963 legislation changed the Commission’s name to the Waterways Safety Council, expanded the membership to five, and changed "Administrator" to "Chief" of the Division of Watercraft.
In 1963 the Division began providing assistance to political subdivisions, conservancy districts, and state agencies to establish and maintain local marine patrols.
Registration and Titling Functions
The issuance of Certificates of Titles and recording of liens (mortgages on watercraft and outboard motors) was initiated on January 1, 1964. With the enactment of Senate Bill 350 in 1971, boat and motor titling was transferred from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and became the responsibility of the Division of Watercraft on December 21, 1971.
In 1980 boat registrations were changed from a one-year to a three-year registration period, and a renewal-by-mail system was established which provided added convenience to boaters while also serving as a very cost-effective procedure. The Division also stopped licensing outboard motors separately, and fees were established by watercraft length classifications.
In 1991 a study was conducted to document the basic structure, functions, activities, and related data of the Division of Watercraft's information system. In January 1992, 12 computers were connected to the ODNR computer network, allowing the Division to share registration data and to better serve law enforcement and other needs. In 1998 the Watercraft Information System (WIS) was implemented. WIS is the database system used by the Division to keep track of registration and titling records and the history of the records. Annual upgrades to the system were performed for renewal of registrations via the Internet and the capability of changing addresses electronically. In 2004, an upgrade allowed for the issuance of online registrations by Watercraft Registration Agents. The system is continually being upgraded to respond to changes in technology and boaters' needs and expectations.
In 1992 the Automated Titling Process System (ATPS) was initiated. All 88 counties were online by 1993. ATPS allows daily networking of all county titling offices with the Division of Watercraft. Cross-county titling came into existence in 2002, and in 2008 the electronic title law was revised to address outboard motors.
In 2000 a titling requirement went into effect for Personal Watercraft (or 'PWC' such as Jet Ski, Waverunner, or Sea Doo), creating a paper trail for ownership transfers of these expensive but relatively portable watercraft. In 2002 the 12-character Hull Identification Number law affected many more boats. This law requires all boats in the state of Ohio to have a correct 12-character HIN at the time a registration or title is issued (boats built in 1973 or later) and after a transfer of ownership for boats that were built before 1973.
Temporary registrations came into being in 1999, allowing boaters to use their boats while waiting for title work to be completed. In 2002 an Alternative Registration for Hand-powered vessels became available. This law gives owners of hand powered canoes, kayaks, rowboats, racing shells, rowing sculls and inflatable watercraft an option to exempt their boats from the traditional numbering system.
With the Internet growing in availability, the Division began offering online boat registration renewals in 2001. Online services expanded in 2003 to include the ability to change your address. Since then services have expanded to allow boaters to renew multiple boats with one credit card transaction and the ability to renew Alternative Registrations online, as well as to renew registrations that had lapsed for up to two years. The convenience of the Internet has not been lost on our customers; online renewals now top 15,000 annually.
Ohio consistently ranks in the top ten states for the number of boat registrations: 424,700 registered boats in 2010 – a record high – ranks Ohio 9th in the nation.
Facilities & Boating Access
An original mandate of the Division in 1960 was to fund capital improvement projects such as launch ramps and marinas. Local political subdivisions and sister state agencies applied yearly for funds to build or improve boating facilities. Grants for public boating access improvement from the Division have topped $40 million since 1998. The largest facility built with Division funds has been the Middle Bass Island Marina.
The enactment of House Bill 949 in 1960 made Ohio the first state in the nation to adopt a uniform system of buoy markers to designate controlled operation areas of waters used for recreational boating. Our Aids to Navigation grant offers about $50,000 annually in buoys and signage to political subdivisions. The Division also manages federal grants for pumpout facilities as well as harbors of refuge for larger boats and dredging.
The Division completed the Boating on Ohio Waterways (BOW) plan in 2004 and has implemented many suggested strategies for improving boating access across the state. Research currently is being completed for a 2012 revision to the BOW plan, which helps keep waterways accessible to all boaters.
In 2005 House Bill 66 established the Marine Facility Low Interest Loan Program for the development of marine recreational facilities to both public and private entities.
As a response to the popularity of paddling as a recreational sport, the Division established an Ohio Water Trails program in 2005. Designated water trails offer not only boating enjoyment but also complementary activities like biking and hiking as well as geological and historical opportunities for interpretive learning. The Kokosing Scenic River was the first Ohio Water Trail, designated in 2005. Subsequent trails have been designated on the Muskingum River (2006), Sandusky Bay/Lake Erie (2007), Vermilion River/Lake Erie/Black River (2009), and the Mad, Stillwater, and Great Miami rivers (2010).
In 2005 the Division began the labor of transferring all facility information into a geographic information system (GIS) database. Operational since 2006, this GIS allows for a more comprehensive view of boating facilities and their amenities. The facility database, coupled with GIS technology, allows for spatial analysis and provides the basis for a web-based mapping application that can produce on-demand maps. GIS also allows for more accurate publications such as the Boat Launch Guide & Map as well as water trail, scenic river, and paddling access maps and scenic river lands delineations. The facility database will be instrumental in revising the BOW plan.
The Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971 marked the beginning of the Division’s enforcement program. The first training academy for Watercraft officers was held at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy in 1972 and consisted of 16 officers. Six district offices were established throughout the state to serve the boating communities, enforce boating laws, and provide education programs.
In 1986 Ohio passed the "Implied Consent" statute requiring potentially intoxicated boat operators to submit to chemical tests when requested by law enforcement officers. Operating a watercraft while under the influence continues to be a major concern of the Division of Watercraft, as alcohol is involved in a high percentage of boating accidents. The original legislation prohibiting the operation of watercraft while under the influence (OUI) was enacted in 1970. With the passage of the revised legislation, the Division enhanced its ability to enforce OUI laws with the purchase of portable breath-testing equipment.
In 1988 the federal government passed legislation that required the U.S. Coast Guard to develop a Vessel Identification System (VIS) to share individual states' vessel information as well as information on federally documented vessels. With such a system, it was thought that the Coast Guard and state law enforcement officials could more effectively identify information on vessels in our nation's ports and waterways — the need for which has heightened since the September 11 terrorist attacks. Ohio became the first state to sign an agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard for participation in VIS in 2007.
In 2001 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to partner with them in the Vessel Safety Check program. If Ohio boaters pass a vessel safety inspection, they benefit by receiving a state-issued decal that is recognized nationally.
Watercraft officers work with the U.S. Coast Guard at both the northern and southern borders of Ohio, on Lake Erie and the Ohio River. Also on Lake Erie, the Division is instrumental in the Northern Border Initiative, a law enforcement and protection partnership with other state agencies, U.S. Homeland Security, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Ohio Watercraft officers are among the best trained boating response agencies in the United States. In addition to patrolling, inspections, and education efforts, they provide emergency flood response, homeland security, and protection support for myriad activities in the state. Officers also provided assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008.
The Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971 also marked the beginning of the Division’s education program. Watercraft officers in concert with local law enforcement and parks and recreation groups provide boating education programs and courses across the state. General boating education courses are enhanced by skill development courses that include sailing, paddling, navigation, and (planned for 2012) powerboating.
In 1978 the Division pioneered the development of the first river rescue program in the United States and Canada. An ad hoc committee on fast water rescue composed of paddlers, emergency medical technicians, and park rangers was spearheaded by the Division to develop safe, simple, and practical rescue techniques. This program received national and international awards and recognition.
In 1983 legislation was enacted to enable the Division to award grants for boater safety education to political subdivisions (non-profit groups became eligible in 1990). Over $2 million has thus far been awarded to community recreation departments, state universities, cities, counties, and townships. These grants enhance services provided by the Division and make more boating safety programs available at the local level.
A volunteer program was established in 1983 to support the efforts of paid staff by expanding available services. Volunteers donate thousands of hours each year by teaching courses, assisting in training, supporting law enforcement, and representing the Division at special events and shows. A large corps of volunteers assists with the Stream Quality Monitoring program.
In 1992 the Division of Watercraft began offering a standardized basic boating course. A year later, volunteers, marine patrol officers, and staff were certified as instructors in what is now called the Ohio Boating Education Course. This course, approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA), fulfills requirements of the National Boating Education Standards, and is recognized as meeting the mandatory education requirement in most U.S. states as well as Canada. The Ohio Boating Education Course continues to change as the national standards for boating safety education change, as NASBLA re-approval is required every three years.
In 1996 the Division of Watercraft entered into memoranda of understanding with the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons to provide educational assistance with Ohio laws and safety requirements. These cooperative agreements greatly increased the Division’s long-standing, professional and successful relationships with both of these outstanding volunteer boating safety organizations. The diversity and convenience of the course offerings provided by these agencies collectively allow all Ohio boaters an opportunity to receive boating safety information and training at minimal cost and in proximity to their homes.
Ohioans witnessed the introduction and enactment of more boating legislation in 1998. House Bill 502 established a graduated mandatory education requirement for individuals born on or after January 1, 1982, when operating powerboats over ten horsepower. The law requires the successful completion of a course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators or passing a proficiency exam. The effective date for the law was January 1, 2000. In response to this law, the classroom version of the OBEC class was revised to include a home study version as well as an online version that continues to be managed by a third-party vendor.
Because the law requires boaters to show proof of education, the Division keeps record of Ohio boaters who have achieved their education certificates. Since 2000, over 104,000 NASBLA-approved boater education certificates have been issued in Ohio through ODNR, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and U.S. Power Squadron certified boating courses.
The Division has been represented on the Internet since 1996. Boating facilities, safety information, boating course and registration information as well as boating laws have continually been updated online. Services expanded in 2001 to include online boat registration renewals and in 2006 to include boating facility GIS data. The Buckeye Boater started as a bimonthly electronic newsletter in 2006 sent to just over 4,000 boaters. Now offered quarterly, the newsletter is subscribed by over 12,000 customers. As a further means to reach out to constituents, the Division embraced social networking in 2010, represented by Ohiodivisionofwatercraft on Facebook and @ohiowatercraft on Twitter.
At the 2008 Ohio State Fair the division opened the State Fair Kayak Pond to the delight of fair attendees. This attraction proved to be one of the most popular at the fairgrounds, providing thousands of Ohio youth a chance to participate in the growing activity of recreational kayaking. The kayak pond was made a permanent installation in 2009 and its popularity at the State Fair has increased. Our volunteer base is vital to the success of this activity, as paddlers are closely monitored and taught simple paddling strokes as they maneuver the Kayak Pond.
Boating Safety Campaigns
Wearing lifejackets, boating sober, and clean boating have been topical boating safety campaigns for the Division since its inception. National Safe Boating Week, in partnership with the National Safe Boating Council and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, is celebrated every May with lifejacket campaigns and vessel safety checks. Sober boating is promoted for the holidays in July and Labor Day, and environmentally responsible boating includes reminders on recycling and water quality issues throughout the season.
In 1993 the Splash Test Dummies™, a family of characters used to promote boating safety, were first featured at the Ohio State Fair. Created by the Public Information and Education Section, the Splash Test Dummies won the National Safe Boating Council’s 1995 Idea Fair. The two main characters, Splish and Splash, were featured in coloring books for youth, public service announcements, posters, and the 1996 National Safety Council Youth Congress at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The Splash Test mascots were featured at the State Fair display through 2007 and their coloring books are still requested. A number of organizations both inside and outside of Ohio continue use the Splash Test Dummies likeness to promote boating safety and lifejacket use.
The Division created a "Wear the Gear" campaign in 2007 to promote lifejacket wear. It included ramp signage and radio public service announcements, and the campaign was featured at a number of boating festivals across Ohio. In 2008 the Division joined with other states and national boating partners to promote the Wear It! program, a lifejacket awareness program that featured a lifejacket loaner program at select inland lakes. The loaner program gave adults the opportunity to borrow an inflatable lifejacket for the duration of the boating season. Activities at the event – like boat rides and a prize wheel for boating education – appealed to boaters of all ages. All field offices have a Wear It Ohio! prize wheel to use at local events and boat shows any time of the year.
The Division reinvigorated its Sober Boater campaign in 2009 and joined national efforts for the Operation Dry Water campaign. "Get on board with a Sober Boater" garnered national support by winning a grant from the National Safe Boating Council in 2009. Originally piloted at a few Lake Erie locations, the program is meant to use informal intervention techniques to remind boaters how poorly alcohol and boating mix. The program is now available across Ohio. Nationally "Operation Dry Water" is used as an enforcement saturation-type of campaign to inform boaters of the dangers of drinking while boating.
In 1985 the Division of Watercraft applied for and received a State Agency Grant from the Division of Recycling and Litter Prevention. With the funding, the Division of Watercraft implemented a comprehensive litter prevention, recycling awareness, and waterway cleanup program. Major projects supported under this program include the Lake Erie Waterways Cleanup, the Little Miami River Cleanup, the Licking River Round-up, and the Ohio River Sweep. This program ran through the 1990s.
Since 2005 the Division has been partnering with Ohio Sea Grant on the Clean Marina and Clean Boater initiatives. Marinas with environmentally responsible boating best practices qualify as Clean Marinas; boaters who pledge to adhere to best practices can claim to be Clean Boaters. These initiatives help increase awareness and spread the message about having a positive impact on the environment, including supporting recycling programs, to ensure good water quality for future boaters.
As a component of the 2009 Budget Bill, the 128th General Assembly transferred the State Scenic Rivers Program to the Division of Watercraft, expanding the Division's mandate to "provide wild, scenic, and recreational river area conservation education and provide for corridor protection, restoration, habitat enhancement, and clean-up projects in wild river areas, scenic river areas, and recreational river areas." This brought administration of the state’s 14 designated wild, scenic, or recreational rivers under Division of Watercraft oversight.
The Scenic Rivers Stream Quality Monitoring program measures the health of the scenic rivers by counting organisms and measuring turbidity of the water. Monitors do environmental education outreach to schools and organizations that in turn assist in collecting data.
In 1999 a Field Restructure Plan began implementation. Four regional field offices were created to better manage law enforcement and education services. The Alum Creek field office was opened and officer satellite sites were established in New Philadelphia, Wapakoneta, and Chillicothe.
In 2000 the U.S. Coast Guard agreed to lease their station in Ashtabula to the Division to use as a satellite site. This collaboration was the first of its kind in Ohio. Satellite sites were also established at Buckeye Lake and Newton Falls. In 2003 a satellite site was established in Marietta.
As a component to the Field Restructure Plan, an increase in law enforcement staff took place in 2000 with the hiring of 13 Watercraft officer cadets and 18 established-term Watercraft officers. Due to retirements, progression, and attrition, the established-term officers were restructured as full time in 2007 and hirings occurred again in 2003 and 2010. An additional cadet class was formed in 2007 and one is in process for 2011. In 2011 the division had 57 law enforcement officers and 11 managers in the field and 6 staff officers providing central service support. Three regional managers oversee 11 full-service field offices and 4 satellite offices.
Many field offices responded to growth by moving into larger space. The Cincinnati field office moved to East Fork State Park in Clermont County in 2003. The Ashtabula and Wapakoneta satellite locations became full-service offices in 2004 and 2006, respectively. The Cleveland office moved to a larger space in 2005, and the Sandusky office moved in 2008. In 2011, an office in Franklin Furnace (Scioto County) at the Greenup Dam on the Ohio River replaced the Portsmouth office.
The Division established an internal advisory committee in 1994 to help oversee quality improvement. The Guidance Committee comprises division employees from all bargaining units (FOP, ASFCME, and exempt personnel) from headquarters as well as from offices across the state. The Guidance Committee plays a pivotal role in strategic planning as well as process improvement. Employee suggestions are vetted by the committee, and the committee sets the framework for implementing innovations as well improved processes.
In 1999 the Division of Watercraft, Ohio Sea Grant, the Lake Erie Commission, the Boating Associations of Ohio, and the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association conducted a recreational boating economic impact study. The study revealed that approximately 19,500 jobs exist in Ohio due to recreational boating. Subsequent updates show that current economic impact of recreational boating in Ohio is $3.5 million.
A Comprehensive Management System, which encompasses strategic and operational planning as well as evaluation, was implemented in the Division in July of 2001. This system drives the budgeting and project management for the agency and assists managers in planning for and utilizing division resources for maximum customer service.
Operating Law Changes
Senate Bill 295 (effective in 1997) addressed changing trends in boating. The minimum operator age changed to 16 for PWC and persons under 12 years of age were prohibited from operating a boat over ten horsepower unless a person 18 years or older is on board (effective January 1, 2000).
In 1998 House Bill 502 established a graduated mandatory education requirement for individuals born on or after January 1, 1982, when operating powerboats over ten horsepower. The law requires the successful completion of a course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators or passing a proficiency exam. The effective date for the law was January 1, 2000.
In 1999 an exhaust muffler law set acceptable noise levels for boats. Noise testing devices were purchased and training was conducted for division staff and marine patrol agencies.
Senate Bill 187 addressed a number of issues including operating requirements and prohibitions, operating vessels when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, temporary registration of watercraft, a process for dealing with unclaimed vessels and outboard motors, the sale of specified items, titling requirements for PWCs and other vessels, and insurance fraud. The major portions of the law went into effect March 18, 1999, with some parts becoming effective January 1, 2000.
In 2002 with authority from the U.S. Supreme Court, Ohio and Kentucky signed an agreement to mutually promote boating safety education and boating law enforcement on the portion of the Ohio River that divides these two states. In 2010 Ohio and West Virginia signed a Mutual Aid Agreement for emergency response and boating law enforcement on the portion of the Ohio River that divides these two states. These agreements represent an important partnership and mutual understanding with our neighboring states that benefits all boating interests along the Ohio River.
House Bill 87 became effective July 1, 2003. This bill modified the offenses of the state law relating to boating while under the influence of alcohol by reducing the specified concentrations of alcohol that can be present in a person’s blood, breath or urine from 0.10% to 0.08%.
The governor signed House Bill 50 on July 22, 2003. The law increases the penalties for hit-and-run offenders when the incident results in the death of a person. In addition, it establishes the offenses of aggravated vehicular homicide and aggravated vehicular assault for watercraft operators under the influence of alcohol or drugs if injury or death occurs during an incident. With this law, boat operators are held to the same penalties as motor vehicle operators who violate these laws.
Senate Bill 271 (June 2008) established a number of new regulations including an increase to 20 for the horsepower limit on Pymatuning Lake; creation of regulations for 'Failure to Control', 'Public Service Safety Zones', and 'Slow-Tow' operation in no wake zones; and amended the use of U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type V life jackets (Special Use PFDs) to include children.
Horsepower limits and operating rules for a number of inland lakes managed by the ODNR Division of Wildlife changed in 2009.
Many rules pertaining to scenic rivers were changed in 2010 to reflect the transfer of Scenic Rivers to the Division in 2009. Also in 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard made some determinations on new types of watercraft and clarified the need for stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) to be registered.
As state boating laws change from year to year and as the Division of Watercraft continues to upgrade the programs and services it provides to the public, the Division will persist in its tradition of working hard to enhance the state’s boating safety program. As the only state agency with marine capabilities and authority, the Division of Watercraft will continue to provide assistance to and foster partnerships with federal, state, and local authorities such as the U.S. Secret Service for the protection of the President, the Ohio State Highway Patrol for the protection of the Governor, sister state departments and divisions, county sheriffs’ offices, and local political subdivisions. The Division will continue to grow our partnerships with boating organizations such as the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadrons, our many boating education partners, and our corps of dedicated, statewide volunteers.