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Firearm Prohibitions on Ohio Watercraft and Waterways

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Firearm Prohibitions on Ohio Watercraft and Waterways

Defending Against Ohio Weapons Charges Regarding Firearm Prohibitions

As the United States developed, one of the primary methods of transportation was via interconnected canals and waterways. Ohio is part of the largest freshwater navigation system in the world as Lake Erie and the St. Lawrence Seaway connect Ohio to the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean. Ohio’s settlement and growth can be attributed to its extensive waterways and canal systems, which brought citizens inland as the United States was colonized. Even today, Ohio industries are dependent on its waterways and river systems, and Ohio’s waterways connect to over 85% of major cities in the United States. Waterways were central to national and international commerce when the United States was colonized. Sailors and explorers traveled through multiple domestic and international jurisdictions while at sea, often carrying crew and cargo from various nations. As such, the international law of the sea devolved to standardize the civil and criminal laws applicable to waterway travel. Admiralty law is within the original jurisdiction of the United States Federal Courts and often differs from federal and state law. Often both federal and state authorities can prosecute criminal waterway offenses, and multiple tribunals may have overlapping jurisdiction when you’re traveling with a firearm on Ohio’s waterways.


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Ohio Information Center for Firearm Prohibitions on Watercraft and Waterways

The State of Ohio respects the firearms rights of its residents, and the strict firearms prohibitions on Ohio’s waterways are partially designed to protect Ohio residents from unintentional violations of serious federal, state, and international firearms laws. Those traveling with a firearm on or through Ohio’s waterways must be cognizant of federal, state, international, and admiralty law to avoid criminal prosecution and potential loss of their firearms rights. Consult our Ohio Information Center for Firearm Prohibitions on Watercraft and Waterways for a general overview of firearms prohibitions on Ohio waterways. If you’ve been charged with a federal or state firearms offense arising from the use of Ohio’s waterways, schedule your free, no-obligation Ohio firearms defense consultation with the Joslyn Law Firm’s top-rated criminal defense lawyers by calling 614-444-1900 or contacting us online today.

  1. Understanding the Overlap Between Federal, State, and Admiralty Law
  2. Ohio State Regulations Governing Firearms on Waterways & Watercraft
  3. Criminal Penalties for Illegally Transporting or Discharging Firearms on Ohio’s Waterways
  4. Exceptions to Prosecution for Transporting/Discharging Firearms on Ohio’s Waterways
  5. Affirmative and Common Law Defenses to Charges of Transporting/Discharging a Firearm on Ohio’s Waterways
  6. Section 1547.69 Convictions and Your Ohio Firearms Rights

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1.  Understanding the Overlap Between Federal, State, and Admiralty Law

When traveling on Ohio’s waterways, predetermine whether you’ll be crossing state or national lines. Moving a firearm across state lines or into Canadian water triggers a number of federal and international firearms regulations. Crossing into New York or another state’s territorial waters also implicates that state’s specific firearms regulations. This includes New York’s complete prohibition on open carry and refusal to recognize Ohio concealed handgun licenses. Even if you remain in Ohio waters, you’re subject to Ohio waterway and firearms regulations. Importantly, because Lake Erie and the Great Lakes are classified as “high seas,” firearms offenses committed on Lake Erie are subject to federal prosecution and admiralty law. The federal courts also have jurisdiction over certain shore-based activities on Lake Erie to regulate and protect trade with Canada. Jurisdiction typically overlaps as follows:

  • Ohio Waterways Only (excluding Lake Erie): Ohio Code § 1547.69 applies to prohibit the discharge and open carry of firearms in or on a vessel unless excepted by statute. Transportation of unloaded firearms is permitted in accordance with Ohio concealed carry laws and specific storage requirements.
  • Lake Erie: Ohio law, including Ohio Code § 1547.69, federal criminal and admiralty law, New York law, Pennsylvania law, Michigan law, Canadian law, and/or certain United Nations treaties governing the law of the seas during international commerce may apply. The applicable law depends on which state or nation’s territorial waters the vessel is traveling to/from. Residents are strongly encouraged to refrain from bringing firearms onto Lake Erie.
  • State-to-State Waterway Travel (excluding The Great Lakes): Federal admiralty law, federal criminal law, the law of the states of travel. Most interstate crimes and admiralty offenses are prosecuted in federal court.

Excluding Lake Erie, Ohio’s interstate waterways are patrolled by local Ohio law enforcement agencies and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Weapons offenses occurring on Ohio’s territorial waterways are prosecuted under Ohio state firearms and waterways laws as addressed herein. Those accused of interstate or international firearms trafficking or suspected of criminal activity on the “high seas,” i.e., Lake Erie, are encouraged to contact an experienced federal and state firearms admiralty attorney at the Joslyn Law Firm immediately. There is no parole, early release, work release, or suspended sentencing in the federal system. Penalties are often more serious for federal offenses. 


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2.  Ohio State Regulations Governing Firearms on Waterways & Watercraft

The broad Second Amendment protections afforded to Ohio gun owners do not extend to Ohio’s waterways. The Ohio Watercraft and Waterways Code “applies to all vessels operating on the waters in this state” and prohibits the discharge and transportation of loaded firearms on Ohio’s waterways unless otherwise excepted. Ohio Code § 1547.69 criminalizes:

  • the knowing discharge of any firearm while on or in a vessel
  • the transportation of any loaded firearm
  • the transportation of any unloaded firearm unless it’s stored in a closed container or stripped and in plain sight
  • the operation of a vessel carrying a firearm in violation of these requirements
  • granting the necessary permission to operate a vessel in violation of these requirements

These prohibitions are in addition to and do not supersede the firearm disabilities and prohibitions set forth in Ohio’s weapons control laws. 


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3.  Criminal Penalties for Illegally Transporting or Discharging Firearms on Ohio’s Waterways 

The illegal transportation of firearms under Section 1547.69 is punishable as a misdemeanor in the fourth degree. Misdemeanors in the fourth degree are punishable by not more than 30 days imprisonment and/or a fine of not more than $2,000. Multiple violations, i.e., transporting multiple firearms, may subject an offender to multiple charges. Further, you may be subject to federal or international firearms trafficking charges depending on the location and nature of the offense. Ohio law enforcement officers have discretion not to charge and/or ticket offenders under Section 1547.69 if the offender is the legal owner of the weapon and not otherwise under an Ohio firearms disability. Collateral penalties for the illegal discharge or transportation of a firearm on Ohio’s waterways include the inability to obtain a CHL or revocation of a boating or hunting license. Speak with an experienced Ohio firearms defense and admiralty lawyer if you’re applying for or appealing the revocation of a recreational boating or hunting license.


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4.  Exceptions to Prosecution for Transporting/Discharging Firearms on Ohio’s Waterways

Section 1547.69 sets forth the general prohibition on firearms transportation and use on Ohio’s waterways, but it also contains the exclusions, exceptions, and affirmative defenses to this crime. The following persons are not subject to criminal penalties under Section 1547.69:

  • Law enforcement officers and/or government employees authorized to carry firearms in the scope of their duties
  • Any person engaged in legal hunting
  • Those with a valid CHL (or active military exception) transporting a handgun provided all paperwork is provided to law enforcement
  • Those transporting emergency flair or signal devices that would otherwise qualify as firearms provided the device is not loaded until needed

These exclusions only apply to a prosecution under Section 1547.69 and do not excuse violations of any other firearms offense unless otherwise stated in the charging statute. Some of the exclusions and/or affirmative defenses available under Section 1547.69 overlap with those available for other firearms charges but are not automatically applicable.

5.  Affirmative and Common Law Defenses to Charges of Transporting/Discharging a Firearm on Ohio’s Waterways

Affirmative defenses differ from statutory exclusions, although they’re often treated similarly. If an alleged offender qualifies for an exclusion, such as the law enforcement exclusion, she was never supposed to be charged with the crime. His or her actions weren’t criminal. Affirmative defenses, on the other hand, do not automatically render a prosecution void. Prosecutors may present evidence to disprove or overcome an affirmative defense, but evidence that an alleged offender qualifies for an articulated affirmative defense is typically sufficient to defeat Section 1547.69 charges. Statutory affirmative defenses to transportation, but not the discharge, of firearms under Section 1547.69 include:

  • A legal possessor/owner transporting and keeping a loaded firearm other than a handgun ready while he/she is going to or from a place of work where carrying the firearm is necessary for defensive purposes due to reasonable susceptibility to criminal attack, i.e., a police officer who takes a boat to work in the morning
  • A legal possessor/owner keeping a weapon other than a handgun ready because she had “reasonable cause to fear a criminal attack” against her or her family. For example, a declared state of emergency or removing and loading a weapon from the vessel’s storage container after hearing gunshots.
  • A legal possessor/owner keeping a firearm, including a handgun, on a vessel docked on his own property, provided he did not illegally transport the firearm to his property. For example, he could lawfully store a hunting rifle on a boat docked in his yard if he moved it from his house to his boat. However, he could not raise this defense if he unlawfully transported the rifle over the waterways and eventually docked at his home.

These affirmative defenses do not directly apply to the unlawful discharge of a weapon while on a vessel. Defenses to prosecution for the unlawful discharge of a firearm on Ohio’s waterways include traditional common law defenses such as:

  • Self-Defense/Defense of Another: If you’re otherwise entitled to an affirmative defense and you actually discharge the weapon to prevent an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to yourself of another, you’re likely entitled to raise this defense to defeat Section 1547.69 charges. The threat must be “imminent” and serious. Verbal threats from afar are not enough to justify the unlawful discharge of a firearm on Ohio’s rivers.
  • Necessity: Applicable if discharging the weapon was necessary to prevent a “greater harm,” but the situation doesn’t justify self-defense. Examples include discharging a weapon to get someone’s attention during an emergency if the anticipated harm was greater than the risk of discharge.
  • Mistake of Fact: If you believed discharge was necessary for self-defense and a reasonable person would have believed the same under the circumstances, you could raise this defense if you were mistaken about the facts. For example, it appears someone is pointing a rifle at you, and you discharge the weapon only to realize the item was actually an old telescope.

An Ohio firearms defense attorney will review the facts of your case and the charges against you to maximize your defensive strategy. This may include raising certain procedural defenses, such as illegal search and seizure about your vessel, presenting evidence to defeat a necessary element of the offense, or challenging the jurisdiction of the charging court.


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6.   Section 1547.69 Convictions and Your Ohio Firearms Rights

Absent additional federal or state charges, a conviction for unlawfully possessing/transporting a firearm on Ohio’s waterways will not affect your firearms rights. This includes your right to keep and bear arms and lawfully transport legal firearms on your vessel. Any criminal firearms convictions, however, can impact certain discretionary rights and will appear on your criminal record. A Section 1547.69 conviction may affect your ability to obtain a CHL, hunting license, or recreational boating license. The facts and circumstances of your case, the time since the conviction, and the totality of your criminal record will all be considered. Working with an experienced Ohio criminal defense and firearms rights attorney to prepare your applications after a conviction can increase your chances for approval.


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Discuss Your Charges with an Ohio Weapons Defense Lawyer

If you’ve been charged with any firearms-related offense arising in admiralty law or from use of Ohio’s waterways, schedule your free, no-obligation Ohio firearms defense consultation with the Joslyn Law Firm’s federal and state firearms defense lawyers today by calling 614-444-1900 or contacting us online.


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