Governor John R. Kasich signed into law House Bill 29, known as the “Boater Freedom Act,” which establishes criteria for watercraft safety inspections on Ohio’s waters. This legislation should decrease the number of safety inspections that recreational boaters experience on Lake Erie and all of Ohio’s waterways.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director (ODNR) James Zehringer attended the signing, which took place at the Governor’s Fish Ohio Day in Port Clinton. Zehringer praised the legislative efforts to craft a bill that defines when state and local law enforcement officers may board recreational watercraft for the purpose of conducting vessel safety inspections.
“ODNR’s primary focus remains the safety of Ohio’s boaters, and the safety inspection program has proven to be a valuable tool,” said Zehringer. “This legislation will provide a positive step toward Ohio boaters being able to enjoy their time even more on Ohio’s lakes and rivers.”
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rex Damschroder, which went into effect with the Governor’s signature, establishes that a state or local law enforcement officer will no longer have the authority to stop or board a vessel to conduct a safety inspection unless the owner or operator voluntarily requests such an inspection; there is reasonable suspicion the vessel, its equipment or its operator is in violation of watercraft or local law; or the boat is being inspected as part of an authorized checkpoint.
The bill additionally exempts charter boat captains and others holding certain U.S. Coast Guard credentials and endorsements from completing Ohio’s boater education course. When testifying in support of the bill, ODNR Division of Watercraft Chief Rodger Norcross said those individuals are already educated in boater safety through the process of obtaining their license.
House Bill 29 only directs the activities of state and local law enforcement agencies; it does not change the policies, procedures or other activities of the U.S. Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security or other federal agencies.
For a fourth consecutive year in 2012, Ohio ranked among the top 10 states nationally with a record 435,310 registered watercraft, according to the ODNR Division of Watercraft. The ODNR Division of Watercraft Division and its 89 commissioned law enforcement officers are responsible for enforcing state boating rules on all state waterways, providing education programs and investigating boating-related accidents. An estimated 3 million Ohioans enjoy recreational boating in the state annually.
For more information on Ohio’s boating programs and boating rules, go to watercraft.ohiodnr.gov.
ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.