PORT CLINTON — Gov. John Kasich used the annual “Governor’s Fish Ohio Day” on Lake Erie as the backdrop Wednesday as he signed into law House Bill 29, the “Boater Freedom Act,” which lays out guidelines for the safety inspections of watercraft in Ohio waters.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont), is intended to cut down on the volume of safety inspection stops that recreational boaters are subjected to by state and local law enforcement.
Those agencies will not have the authority to stop a vessel for such an inspection, unless the boat’s owner or operator requests the inspection, or there is reasonable suspicion some law has been violated, or the stop is part of an authorized checkpoint.
The governor said he was made aware of the excessive inspection stops issue on a visit to Toledo by Mayor Mike Bell.
“I remember hearing from Mayor Bell that people were just being harassed,” Kasich said. “For example, they’d go to a nice little dinner over in Toledo ... and the law enforcement would be sitting right out there trying to nab people.”
Kasich said nothing changes in regards to how irresponsible or intoxicated boaters would be dealt with.
“It’s the same thing as drunk driving — I mean you just can not have it,” he said. “But we don’t want a willy-nilly operation to just stop people and give them a hard time. It drives people away, and that’s why this legislation is important.”
James Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources which oversees watercraft enforcement, said safety remains the highest priority.
“We want to make sure it’s a safe environment out there, but not interfere with your boating pleasure,” Zehringer said. “The safety inspection program has proven to be a valuable tool. 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 legislation does not affect the activities of the U.S. Coast Guard, Border Patrol, or the Department of Homeland Security, but Kasich said he hoped state officials would “aggressively communicate with our partners in the federal government” about the intent of the new law.
Ohio remains one of the top boating states in the country, with a record 435,310 registered watercraft, according to the ODNR.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.