Boaters: Follow the rules for licensing and flotation devices


A car or truck has a VIN — a Vehicle Identification Number — and a boat must have a HIN, a Hull Identification Number. A HIN is the boat’s serial number which is stamped on a metal tag or otherwise placed indelibly on the rear right (starboard) of the boat.

Like a finger print, a HIN belongs to that boat and that boat only. A HIN has 12 characters and the last two normally indicate the year produced. So if the first ten characters are any mix of garble, the last two might be 05 which of course mean that the boat is a 2005 model.

Homemade craft or any watercraft without a HIN should be reported at an Ohio Watercraft office which can assign a number.

The HIN is important, especially to a prospective buyer. The HIN must match the title and if it does not, or if the HIN has obviously been changed or altered, there is a problem and it might indicate a stolen boat. In that case a buyer should never walk away. Instead, they should run away.

Small boats

Boats have titles, issued and transferred at a county license bureau. Small outboard motors, up to 9.9 horsepower, don’t. Nor do canoes and kayaks and various small muscle-powered craft under 14 foot in length. If a title is required, casual buyers dealing directly with a private owner must obtain a notarized and signed title for the craft and any motors requiring one.

Now for the OH numbers. You always see these on both sides of the front of a boat beginning with a two character ID for the state in which it was issued. In Ohio it’s OH, thus the term an OH number.

The numbers are issued upon registration of the boat. Registration and issued OH numbers come with three years of life and the year of expiration is seen on the stick-on registration stamp.

Registration and OH numbers are as common as barrel- sized soft drinks at gas stations but for small boats, kayaks, and many less common craft, motors, etc. the regulations can be more or less complicated. More is the key word here.

Flotation device

If water skiing, tubing, and standing or riding on any sort of go-fast and scream device is on the lake-day menu be sure to wear a Type I, II, III PFD or a Type V PFD specifically designed for the use, in good shape, and of an appropriate size.

Now pay attention please. If there is a child under 10 years old riding in a boat under 18 feet in length, the child shall be wearing a PFD. As always, when used in legal statements, the word “shall” means no discussion needed.Most boats need some standard equipment like an anchor with rope, signaling devises, and a charged fire extinguisher. The Ohio “Boat Owners Guide” published by the Ohio Division of Watercraft spells all of this and more in great detail.

The booklet also explains the rule of the road such reading the buoys, passing other craft, etc.

Of course the information is available on line but for those of us who are not attached 24/7 to an electronic devise, booklets are available at marinas, boat dealerships and the Akron Watercraft office at 330-644-2265.


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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.



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