Ohio Boating Accidents & Boat Laws

Boat Accidents and Lawsuits in Ohio

What rules, requirements and restrictions impact boat accident lawsuits in the Buckeye State?

Boat accidents often result in physical injuries and property damage. If someone’s negligence caused the accident, you might be able to recover damages.

It may surprise you to learn that Ohio (a landlocked state) has a thriving boating scene, but it’s true.

Ohio’s many lakes, rivers, and creeks—which include Lake Erie, the Ohio River, and Alum Creek—are crammed with boats.

In fact, the number of registered boats in Ohio hit an all-time high in 2018, at 573,400.

Unfortunately, lots of boats also mean lots of boating accidents.

Fortunately, Enjuris is here to help you navigate your boat accident claim.

Common causes of boat accidents

According to a report from the United States Coast Guard, the 5 most common types of boating accidents in the US are:

  1. Collisions with other vessels
  2. Collisions with fixed objects
  3. Flooding
  4. Grounding
  5. Falls overboard

With respect to fatal boating accidents, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources keeps track of the primary causes and primary contributing factors:

Fatal boating accidents in Ohio by primary accident type
Type Total
Fall overboard 17
Capsize 12
Flood/swamp 6
Collision 8
Person left Vessel 11
Skier mishap 3
Unknown 15

Source: Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Fatal boating accidents in Ohio by primary contributing factor
Type 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Total
Alcohol/drug use 2 3 1 4 1 11
Passenger/skier behavior 2 2 1 0 1 6
Operator inattention 2 1 5 3 2 13
Wake 1 0 0 0 0 1
Careless/reckless operation 1 0 1 0 2 4
Sitting/standing on gunnel/bow/transom 1 1 1 0 1 4
Unknown 5 5 11 10 6 37

Source: Ohio Department of Natural Resources


Facing factsA majority of fatal boating accidents in Ohio from 2015 to 2019 happened on powerboats (33 deaths) followed by canoes and kayaks (20). Most deadly boating accidents happened on Lake Erie during those same 5 years (29), followed by other lakes in Ohio (27).

Federal boating laws

Boating accidents can be particularly complicated because they may implicate both federal and state laws. First, let’s start with the federal laws that might apply to your boating accident.

Federal laws (also called “maritime” or “admiralty” laws) usually govern boating accidents that occur:

  • On navigable waters (bodies of water that provide a channel for the transportation of goods and people), and
  • Involve traditional maritime activities (commercial activities rather than recreational activities).

Some examples of federal laws that may govern commercial boating accidents include:

Enjuris tip: Learn more about maritime laws, such as the Jones Act.

Ohio boating laws

While federal boating laws govern most commercial boating accidents, state laws govern most recreational boating accidents. These laws, which can be found in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Boat Operators Guide, are extensive and cover things like:

  • Ownership and registration of vessels
  • License and education requirements
  • Mandatory accident reporting
  • Duties of boat operators
  • Boating while under the influence
  • Required safety equipment

While it would take far too long to talk about all of the rules and requirements listed under Ohio’s boating laws, we’ll highlight a few of the most important guidelines below.

Do I need to report a boat accident in Ohio?

A recreational boat operator is required by law to submit a Recreational Boating Accident Report when involved in an accident that results in any of the following:

  • Loss of life or disappearance from a vessel
  • An injury that requires treatment beyond first aid
  • Combined damages in excess of $500
  • Complete loss of vessel
Reports must generally be submitted within 5 days of the accident. However, if the accident resulted in a death, the report must be submitted within 24 hours.

Can my child operate my boat in Ohio?

In Ohio, children under the age of 12 are prohibited from operating any personal watercraft (PWC). Additionally:

  • Children 12-15 can operate a PWC only if they have an education certificate and an adult is onboard.
  • Children 16 and older can operate without supervision if they have an education certificate.
  • Anyone born before 1982 can operate a PWC without an education certificate.

Can I drink alcohol while operating my boat in Ohio?

In Ohio, it’s illegal to operate any vessel (or use water skis and similar devices) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If your BAC is 0.08 or more, you’re automatically considered “under the influence” even without additional evidence. If your BAC is less than 0.08, you might still be deemed “under the influence” if there’s other evidence of impairment.

Penalties for operating a vessel while under the influence range from a minimum of 3 days in jail and a $150 fine (for a 1st offense) to a maximum of 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine (for a 3rd offense).

Who has the right of way in a narrow channel in Ohio?

Ohio’s right-of-way laws can be found in Chapter 1501 of the Ohio Administrative Code. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • A vessel in a narrow channel must keep as near to the right side of the channel as possible.
  • A power vessel proceeding downbound with a following current has the right of way over an upbound vessel.
  • Vessels leaving a dock, slip, tie-up, or mooring must yield the right of way to vessels approaching.

Determining liability in a boating accident

As is the case with car accidents, you usually have to prove that some other person or entity was negligent in a boating accident in order to recover damages for your injuries. This means, you have to prove that the other person or entity acted without reasonable care, and that action or failure to act was the cause of your injury.

For example, if you collide with another boat, you’ll need to prove that the other boat operator acted without reasonable care (by perhaps failing to yield the right of way or operating the boat while under the influence) and that action caused the accident.

Common examples of individuals and entities who may be held liable for boating accidents include:

  • A boat operator
  • A boat owner
  • A manufacturer
  • An employer

Recoverable damages in a boat accident

Boating accidents often result in physical injuries and property damage.

Facing factsThere were a total of 126 boating accidents reported in Ohio in 2018. Fifteen of those involved a fatality, and 39 involved an injury. The total cost of damages was nearly $3 million.

Fortunately, Ohio awards both economic damages and non-economic damages in boat accident cases.

Economic damages are tangible losses that come with a price tag (medical bills, property damage, lost wages, etc.). Non-economic damages refer to losses that don’t have a clear dollar value (pain and suffering, loss of consortium, etc.).

If a loved one is killed in a boat accident, certain family members can recover damages associated with the loss by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about the different types of damages available in a personal injury case.

Finding an Ohio boat accident attorney near you

Boating accidents aren’t the same as car accidents or other types of accident claims. Litigating a boat accident requires particular knowledge, including an understanding of how both federal and state laws might impact a boat injury claim.

What’s more, it’s not always clear which state’s laws apply. For example, if a boat accident occurs on the Ohio River, it’s not always clear whether the laws of Ohio or Kentucky  apply. 

When searching for an attorney to handle your boat accident claim, seek one who has experience litigating boat accident cases. Not sure if an attorney has experience litigating boat accident cases? Just ask them! And ask for a referral while you’re at it.

Enjuris tip: Learn how to prepare for your first meeting with an attorney, as well as what questions you should ask the attorney to make sure they’re right for you and your case.

Feel free to use our free lawyer directory can help get you started!


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