Boaters, get your bearings

Marine Board offers tips for safety on rivers and lakes

Water users Labor Day Weekend is one of the top three boating weekends of the year on many Oregon lakes and rivers, attracting thousands to the alluring banks and warmest water of the season. To keep things fun and safe, the Oregon State Marine Board suggests keeping the following in mind as you plan your water getaway:

n Don’t drink and boat. Officers are looking for intoxicated boat operators on the water and at the boat ramps when leaving the water. If arrested for Boating Under the Influence of Intoxicants (BUII), a violator can be fined $6,250, lose boating privileges for a period of time, and may even serve jail time.

n Know your waterway. “Get familiar with your surroundings and always keep a sharp lookout throughout your voyage,” says Ashley Massey, Public Information Officer for the Marine Board. “Stumps, deadheads and sand and gravel bars can appear out of nowhere with water depth changes. Start out slow and get your bearings.”

n Know what rules apply to you. “There are all kinds of watercraft on the market, and some are considered boats and others are just pool toys. Boats are designed differently, and by state law, have equipment requirements such as having enough life jackets that fit properly for everyone on board and a sound producing device, like a whistle. Attach the whistle to the life jacket and you’re set.” Massey adds. “If you plan to float the river on a pool toy, keep in mind that it wasn’t designed for anything but a pool and can easily puncture. If you plan on a relaxing float, do it in a watercraft designed for the river that won’t easily puncture and have it properly equipped.”

n Wear your life jacket. Each boat (including kayaks, inflatable boats and canoes) must have a properly fitting life jacket for each person on board. Life jackets need to be in good shape and readily accessible - not under a hatch or in its packaging. All youth 12 and younger must wear a life jacket when in a boat that’s underway. U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that over half of all boating fatalities occur with small boats on calm waterways, in sunny conditions. Eight-five to 90 percent of boating fatality victims were not wearing a life jacket.

n Sit on the seat. The growth of wake surfing is luring many people to ride on the swim platform, stern or sides of the boat. This is a carbon monoxide and prop-strike safety hazard. It is also illegal to ride on the bow, decks, gunwales or transoms of a motor boat when the boat is underway. Sitting on designated seat cushions is the safest place to be -especially when the boat is towing someone.

n Slow down and keep a sharp lookout. Know the boating regulations for your area of operation. Always obey the “5-mph, slow-no-wake” buoys or signs. Wakes can contribute to bank erosion, dock and property damage and boaters are responsible for their wake. Remember to slow down within 200 feet of a dock, launch ramp, marina, moorage, floating home or boathouse, pier or swim float. If not, this is the fastest way to get negative attention from other boaters, property owners, and possibly, a citation. Be courteous with paddlers who are also sharing the waterway. Wakes can easily swamp low-freeboard paddlecraft.

n Carry your boater education card. All boaters operating boats over 10 hp need to have a boater education card. Youth 12-15 who operate a powerboat 0-10 hp alone must carry a boater education card. When operating a powerboat greater than 10 hp, youth must be supervised by a card-holding adult age 16 or older. When operating a personal watercraft, the supervising adult must be 18 or older. Educated boaters are much less likely to be involved in boating accidents because they know the “rules of the road.”

n Carry your aquatic invasive species prevention permit. For registered motorized craft, a $5 surcharge is added onto the boat registration and current decals act as proof of payment into the program. For non-motorized watercraft 10 feet long and longer, such as canoes, kayaks, sailboats, paddleboards and inflatable rafts, the operator needs to physically carry a permit when out on the water. The cost is $7 for non-motorized craft and can be purchased through any ODFW field office or licensing agent. Permits are valid until December 31 of the year issued. Tyvek tags (waterproof permits) are sold through the Marine Board’s online storefront and various Marine Board permit dealers. Tyvek tags are $5 for the annual permit and $10 for a two-year permit. This program is self-funded and permit fees support aquatic invasive species detection, decontamination, signage, and education materials for boaters.

Marine officers will be on the water to assist boaters and help keep the waterways safe. The top violations so far this summer involve not having life jackets, failure carrying a boater education card or aquatic invasive species permit, and not having current boat registration decals. Other violations involve reckless operation and alcohol.

“Boating is a lot of fun, and a long weekend makes it even better,” Massey adds. “Just remember to prepare, and plan so you can have the best time at play.”

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