Editor’s Note

This story was originally published by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

With the calendar about to turn and warmer weather just around the corner, many Ohioans are leaning into the boating season.

This state has an interesting history with its waterways.

Prior to the late 1800s, most boating in Ohio was a transportation and commerce necessity.

The Ohio and Erie Canal, which became operative from Akron to Cleveland in 1827, was economic boon for Ohio and served as a link to needed resources. The Miami and Erie Canal, which comprised three canals (the Miami Canal running from Cincinnati to Dayton, the Miami Extension, and the Wabash and Erie Canal), was officially designated in 1849.

Boating as a recreational activity was popularized by sailing regattas held on Lake Erie in the late 1800s. The first international sailing regatta on the Great Lakes was held at Put-in-Bay in September 1871. The Inter-Lake Yachting Association (ILYA) was conceived in July 1884 at Put-in-Bay Harbor and was formally organized in 1885 at a meeting for the Cleveland Yachting Association and the Cleveland Canoe Club. Interest in regatta sailing races was so great that in 1900 carrier pigeons were dispatched from a boat at the finish line to fly the results to the Sandusky Star, the local evening newspaper.

For many Ohioans, Lake Erie weekends were not a recreational option. Folks living inland flocked to the rivers for recreational boating and fishing opportunities. Popular family vacation destinations included the Maumee, Miami, Muskingum, Tuscarawas, and Ohio rivers, which provided ample opportunity to spend on-the-water time with family and friends.

Production of the first Evinrude outboard motor in 1909 opened the doors to modern recreational boating. In the 1920s, the high cost of owning and operating powerboats meant that recreational use was reserved for the wealthy. The Depression of the 1930s tremendously slowed the growth of recreational boating, but after World War II the demand for leisure time activities dramatically increased, including a resurgence of competitive racing.

Until the 1970s, boat owners registered their boats locally, for a particular body of water — thus requiring multiple registrations for a single vessel if it was used in different bodies of water.

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