Memorial Day is the traditional beginning of boating season in Ohio, and this year, boat registrations statewide have set a record at 424,700 despite a less-than-ideal economy.
Seneca County's contribution to the total is 2,418 registered boats, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft. Numbers in neighboring counties are: Crawford, 1,678; Hancock, 3,016; Huron, 2,336; Sandusky, 3,006; Wood, 5,450; and Wyandot, 1,147.
The previous state record was 419,364 reported in 2009.
Totals do not include more than 6,400 canoes and kayaks that were registered through commercial liveries.
"Most of our increase has been in the canoe and kayak realm," said Tim Steinbauer, water safety officer with the Division of Watercraft's Sandusky office. "It's our biggest increase in types of boats we've ever seen.
"It's really hard to pinpoint why," he said. "It could be the price of fuel or it could be people are trying new forms of exercise."
Counties with the highest number of watercraft registrations are Franklin, Cuyahoga, Summit, Hamilton and Montgomery.
Although local breakdowns aren't available, the Division of Watercraft reports 316,220, or 74 percent, are registered powerboats and personal watercraft; 89,859, or 21 percent, are canoes and kayaks; 11,616, or 2.7 percent, are rowboats; and 7,005, or 1.6 percent, are sailboats without auxiliary power.
During the past decade, the number of registered canoes and kayaks more than doubled from 44,198 in 2000 to 89,859 in 2010 an increase of 103 percent.
Recreational boating generates a statewide economic impact of $3.5 billion annually, supporting the equivalent of more than 26,000 full-time jobs, according to a 2007 Great Lakes Commission study.
An estimated 3 million Ohioans go boating each year, or nearly one in four. Almost half of Ohio residents have participated in recreational boating at least once in their lifetime, according to an Ohio State University study.
The Division of Watercraft and the National Safe Boating Council remind boaters to wear their life jackets any time they are on the water.
Among the 16 Ohioans who died in boating-related accidents on state waterways in 2010, none were wearing a life jacket when the accidents occurred, according to the Division of Watercraft. Investigations typically conclude most boating-related accidents are preventable, and boaters increase their chances of survival when properly wearing an approved life jacket.
Ohio law requires a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket of the correct size and type be worn by any person younger than 10 years old while aboard any vessel less than 18 feet long. An life jacket should be worn by any person, regardless of age, who is riding a personal watercraft, and by any person who is being towed behind a boat for any reason such as tubing and waterskiing.
"It's important to make sure you have all your safety gear on board," Steinbauer said. "We highly recommend people wear their life jackets even if they aren't required."
Steinbauer also reminded boaters to watch the weather.
"We had some unique and severe weather this year so far," he said.
At water temperatures less than 60 degrees, Steinbauer said hypothermia can set in quickly.
"The water is still very cold, so it's important to dress for the water temperature as well as the air temperature," he said. "If somebody doesn't have a life jacket on and ends up in the water ,stay as high out of the water as possible, stay with the boat and try to get a life jacket on."
Steinbauer reminds boaters that boating and drinking laws are similar to drinking and driving laws.
"Consuming alcohol on a boat is extremely dangerous," he said. "There's a lot of stressors on the water and people can become intoxicated much quicker.
"After an accident, you can't just get out and walk away," he said. "You have water to deal with."