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When operating on the river, all State of Ohio watercraft laws are in effect; in addition, some lesser-known provisions also apply. Various state law enforcement agencies have jurisdiction, depending on where you are boating. Be sure you know the state laws for the area where you will be boating. Various security zones are located along the river.

The Ohio River is considered to be "federal waters" and boaters need to comply with all U.S. Coast Guard requirements. When operating on the river all State of Ohio watercraft laws are in effect.

Following are some lesser known provisions that are applicable:

No Wake Zones (ORC 1547.08)
Ohio law states that any watercraft operating within 300 feet of a marina, gas dock or launching area must travel at no wake or "idle speed." Boat operators are responsible for any damage that their wake may cause. Stay in the main channel of the river when operating at greater than idle speed.

No wake or idle speed is also enforced during the period from sunset to sunrise according to local time within any water between the Dan Beard bridge and the Brent Spence bridge on the Ohio River for any vessel not documented by the U.S. Coast Guard as commercial.

Most of the creek and backwater areas leading to the Ohio River are also zoned as no wake. (Check with your local enforcement agency.)

Kentucky officials announced they have expanded that state's no-wake zone from 100 feet to 300 feet between the Brent Spence and Daniel Carter Beard bridges near downtown Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky, during daylight hours. The new regulation became effective June 19, 2002. Boaters, PWC operators and other powercraft must operate at idle speed within 300 feet of near-shore vessels, marinas, docks and harbor entrances. The new regulation is intended to enhance boating safety by reducing speeds in a highly congested area and to reduce wakes that effect small boats and shoreline structures.

Rules of the Road (OAC 1501.47)
When operating on waters where a current is present:

  • A vessel heading downstream has right of way over a vessel heading upstream.
  • Recreational watercraft are sharing the river with large commercial vessels that are confined to a channel. Boaters must yield the right of way to them.
  • A vessel crossing a river shall keep out of the way of a powerdriven vessel ascending or descending the river.
    When operating the vicinity of a narrow channel:
  • A vessel in a narrow channel shall keep as near to the right side of the channel as is safe and practical;
  • A power vessel proceeding downbound with a following current shall have right-of-way over an upbound vessel;
  • Vessels less than 20 meters long, sailing vessels, vessels engaged in fishing, or vessels crossing the channel shall not impede passage of a vessel that can safely navigate only within a channel;
  • Vessels shall avoid anchoring in narrow channels; An overtaking vessel shall indicate its intention by sounding the appropriate signal and take steps to permit safe passing. The overtaken vessel sounds the same signal if in agreement;
  • A vessel nearing a bend or an area where vessels may be obscured by an obstruction shall navigate with caution and sound appropriate signals;
  • Vessels leaving a dock, slip, tie-up or mooring shall yield the right-of-way to all vessels approaching.


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Harbour Towne Yacht Club - 5001 Kellogg Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45230 - (513) 231-8107