Boat Registration in Ohio

Congrats on your new boat! You must be excited to get out on the water. But before you set sail on Lake Erie or get to fishing on one of Ohio’s many waterways, you’ll need a certificate of registration for your vessel. 

At first glance, registering a boat in Ohio appears to be overly complicated. Have no fear though. We’ve created this Ohio boat registration guide to simplify the process. Follow these steps and we promise it will be smooth sailing for you!

Key takeaways:

  • All motorized vessels need to be registered
    Non-motorized vessels over 10 feet in length need to be registered
    Most boats over 20 feet in length need to also be titled
    Boat registrations are valid for three calendar years after issuance

Do I need to register my boat in Ohio?

In Ohio, almost every recreational boat operated on public waterways must be registered through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. You are required to register motorboats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, pedal boats, and even inflatable boats. 

These are the only types of boats that do not need to register through the ODNR. 

  • Kiteboards, paddleboards, and float tubes. 
  • Boats that are registered in another state and are spending less than 60 days in Ohio.
  • Vessels Documented by the US Coast Guard.
  • A lifeboat on a vessel 
  • Boats that the Chief of the Division of Parks and Watercraft has exempted

How do I register my boat for the first time?

New boats can be registered in person at a boat registration agent office or at a watercraft office. It’s best to call before you head over to an office just to make sure they are open and have registration decals available. 

Part of the application process requires you to show documentation that you are in fact the owner of the boat. What to show depends on if your boat is titled or not. 

  • If your boat is required to be titled, you need to show an Ohio title in your name. 
  • If your boat is not required to be titled, you can show any of the following as proof of ownership: Manufacturer's Statement of Origin (MSO), Bill of Sale, the signed over registration from the previous owner, or a Notorized Affidavit of Ownership.

After you have proven ownership, you will need to hand over a completed certified watercraft registration application. It’s best to fill this application out ahead of time. The application asks for such things as your boat’s Hull Identification Number, Make, Length, Year, Boat Type, etc.

Pro tip: If you have a boat that’s exclusively powered by paddle or oars, you will want to fill out the section of the application for “Alternative Registration for Hand-Powered Vessels.” You will end up paying a lot less in registration fees.

When I register my boat, do I also need to apply for a certificate of title?

Certain boats or outboard engines require a certificate of title in Ohio. These include:

  • Any boat 14 feet or greater in length
  • An outboard motor of 10 horsepower or greater
  • Any boat with a permanently affixed means of propulsion of 10 horsepower or greater (ex: Jet Skis)

If you are buying one of these types of boats or outboard engines, you should make sure the title is transferred to your name. Titles can be obtained from any county title office. If you try to register one of these boats or engines in Ohio before you transfer the title to your name, you will be turned away.

What type of fees should I expect?

The cost of your boat registration depends on the length of your boat and how it is propelled. 

If your boat is exclusively powered by hand such as a kayak or rowboat, there are two pricing tiers to choose from:

  • Traditional registration (required to have two sticker decals and OH registration numbers affixed to your vessel) = $20
  • Alternative Registration (required to have one sticker decal affixed to your vessel) = $25

We recommend opting for the alternative registration. You end up paying $5 more, but you only need to display one tiny sticker on your vessel.

If your boat is exclusively powered by sail, your registration fee depends on the length of your boat: 

  • Sailboats less than 16ft = $38
  • Sailboats between 16ft and <26ft = $53
  • Sailboats between 26ft and <40ft = $68
  • Sailboats between 40ft and <65ft = $83
  • Sailboats 60ft and above = $98

Finally, if your boat will be be powered by a motor (even part time), your registration fee depends on the length of your boat: 

  • Boats less than 16ft = $33
  • Boats between 16ft and <26ft = $48
  • Boats between 26ft and <40ft = $63
  • Boats between 40ft and <65ft = $78
  • Boats 60ft and above = $93

These fees cover an Ohio boat registration certificate for three years.  Every registration certificate expires on March 1 in the third year. At that point, you will need to renew your registration.

What do I do with the registration certificate, number, decal?

After you have successfully registered your boat in Ohio, you will be assigned a unique registration number as well as receive a registration certificate and decal sticker. 

Your registration number will start with OH followed by numbers and then two letters. This registration number will stay the same for as long as you own the boat. You must affix this number to each side of the forward half of the vessel. We recommend purchasing vinyl stickers for this (you can order them from places like BoatUS or West Marine).

The numbers must be at least 3 inches high and read from left to right. They also must be clearly visible; choose a color that stands out against the color of your boat.

After you affix the numbers to your boat, you will want to place the decal stickers 6 inches away from the numbers. The decals should always be on the side of the numbers closest to the boat’s stern. 

Finally, always keep your registration certificate on you when operating your boat. If you are found operating your watercraft without your registration by a member of law enforcement, you may receive a fine. We recommend either laminating the certificate or keeping it in a water-proof sleeve.

How do I renew my boat registration?

The good news is that renewing your registration is much easier than first-time registration. 

You will receive a notification from Ohio’s Division of Parks and Watercraft a few months before your registration expires on March 1st in the third year. At this point, you can renew your registration online. You will then receive your new registration certificate and decals in the mail.

Do I have to register my boat trailer in Ohio?

Boat trailers in Ohio must be registered with the Ohio Bureau of Public Safety alongside other non-commercial trailers. Before registering your trailer and getting license plates, you are required to have it weighed and get a weight card. The registration fee for Boat trailers in Ohio ranges from $12 to $49 depending on the weight.

Titles are required for boat trailers that weigh more than 4,000 pounds (boat and trailer combined), and the titles must be transferred when the trailer is purchased or sold.

What do I do once my boat is ready for open waters?

Now you can start enjoying life as a boat owner! Get out there and explore all of Ohio’s lakes and waterways. 

When you’re ready to come back to shore, be sure to dock at one of these marinas in Ohio. They are the best Ohio has to offer and would love to host you for a night or an entire season.