Cold Water Paddling Considerations

It’s that time of year again. The days are growing shorter, and colder. By this time of the year many paddlers have tucked their boats cozily away for the winter… but not everyone.               

For the intrepid few willing to brave the elements, boating opportunities abound in the colder months. Many streams and rivers without enough water for boating in the summer swell during the colder parts of the year to reveal new adventures, challenges, and some very serious risks. Cold-season boating can be extremely thrilling but is also far more dangerous than in the warmer months of summer. It requires special training, equipment, and planning to be safely enjoyed. Cold temperatures, inclement weather, high water flows, hazardous debris, and little available help in the event of an emergency all matter when cold water boating. But, even with the dangers, if taken seriously and done properly it can be a very fun and rewarding activity.

It is always your responsibility to know your abilities and be prepared for anything that can happen on the water. And as always, wear a life jacket.

The Cold:

The Danger:

Cold water and air temperature are normal conditions for winter boating and the perfect equation for developing hypothermia. This is a serious medical condition where the human body loses heat at a faster rate than it can generate it leading to a dangerous drop in core temperature. In cold water, body heat loss can be so rapid that serious hypothermia and disorientation occur in as fast as 10 minutes. Symptoms begin with shivering as the body attempts to warm itself through movement, then quickly progress to disorientation, impaired judgment, and if untreated, to unconsciousness and death. Not only is hypothermia dangerous on its own, but combined with water activities, greatly increases the risk of drowning.

The Fix:

To prevent hypothermia in cold water paddling the use of special environmental protection is necessary. This means, at a minimum, the use of a cold water-rated wetsuit and a waterproof shell, such as a purpose-made paddling top or light rain jacket. Wetsuits help retain heat in the water but when wet and exposed to the wind they are not as effective, therefore they need to be paired with a top that shields them from the wind when not in the water. A synthetic fleece jacket can be also added between the top and wetsuit to increase warmth when not in the water.

If you plan to do a lot of winter paddling, then it is advisable to invest in or rent a dry suit. This is a waterproof suit with rubber seals around the neck and wrists that allows the wearer to layer warm clothing underneath. The drawbacks are that dry suits are expensive and the seals are unavoidably uncomfortable. However, being able to adjust the amount of insulation you wear and being able to step out of the dry suit, already in warm dry clothes, is a special kind of wonderful on a cold day.

Picture of a properly outfitted stand up paddleboarder with cold water gear

Picture of a properly outfitted stand up paddleboarder with cold water gear

Just as important as an exposure suit to preventing hypothermia is an appropriate choice of headwear.  A lot of body heat loss occurs through the head because of its high blood flow. An insulating hat made of synthetic or natural wool fiber like a beanie can be paired with a waterproof rain hat. If you choose this option, it is recommended that both be carried and can be worn separately or together, offering flexibility.  Alternatively, there are a number of neoprene hoods and beanies available from paddling suppliers that function as standalone headwear, fit well under a helmet, and are appropriate for more water contact.

If you would like to learn more about exposure protection, talk to your local paddle shop or club. There are also great resources available on YouTube.  Research “hypothermia” and “mechanisms of body heat loss,” to get a better understanding of how these tools can help to regulate your body temperature and keep you safe.

High Water and Debris:

The Danger:

While not a huge hazard on static bodies of water like lakes, high water flows can have dramatic effects on rivers and streams. A familiar stream in the summer can be completely different at a higher flow. As the water rises, its speed increases and structures become submerged compared to what was visible at lower flows. This can create stronger hydraulics and larger waves as well as entire rapids that were not there before.

The Fix:

Paying close attention to conditions is very important in winter boating. Not only do water flows increase, but they also fluctuate more rapidly. So, before each trip on the day you intend to boat, check the flow of the section or run. Most navigable streams in Oregon have river gauges placed and reported by NOAA/National Weather Service River Forecast Center. Select the river and gauge profile closest to the section you plan to run.  If you are not sure, consult the Boat Oregon Online Map to get a better idea. Flow is usually listed in a CFS value meaning cubic feet per second. Sometimes gauge height is also used which is a figure given in feet but this is becoming less common. Once you know the flow volume, the challenge of interpreting it. This means having personal knowledge or consulting a guidebook or knowledgeable person on the section of water at the given flow you are interested in. It is always best to go with somebody who has done it before. If nobody has information about the section during the same flow conditions, the trip should be considered exploratory and potentially unsafe.

Picture of a capsized canoe in a strainer

Capsized canoe in a strainer

The Boat Oregon Online Map also has a feature with reported river obstructions under the safety tab where known debris hazards are marked on the map with a picture and description. There’s also a stand-alone Obstructions Map which is an excellent tool for being aware of known “strainer” locations. Practice your skills and always remain vigilant. Assume there are other unreported or new obstructions. An app is available on the Obstructions Map page called the “BORT” (Boating Obstruction Reporting Tool). Scroll down below the map for the User’s Guide and QR code to download the application. This tool allows boaters to report obstructions they find. It’s boaters helping boaters! In addition, it is a good idea to assume that high winds will make debris hazards worse, so boating during or following a major windstorm is not advised. Gather all the information possible prior to a trip.

Fewer opportunities to be helped:

The Danger:

Paddler staying with their paddleboard and attempting self-rescue

Paddler staying with their paddleboard and attempting self-rescue

In addition to the hazards already listed, there are almost always fewer people on the river when it’s cold, and sometimes you’re all alone. This means help is unlikely in the event of an emergency or accident.  Boaters in this situation must be prepared to deal with situations on their own. Even when help is available, rescue is often more difficult due to challenging conditions, and the timeline for rescue becomes far more critical with cold temperatures and shorter days. Communication devices can help but even satellite communicators don’t always work in river canyons and options for moving to find a signal may be limited. Because of this, cold water paddlers should always assume they will need to self-rescue.

The Fix:

Picture of a group of paddlers dressed for the conditions and to a Christmas theme

Santa Paddle group on the Willamette River

Paddling alone increases risk at any time of the year but because of the special circumstances inherent to winter paddling it should be considered excessively dangerous. Having even one other person present to assist in the event of an emergency greatly increases safety. So, the best way to compensate for the lack of available help is to paddle with a buddy or friends! Include people with training and skills sufficient for the chosen section or run. There are many local kayaking, rafting, and paddleboarding groups that go on cold water trips and joining them is a great way to learn and benefit from the experience and support of others. Many can be found on social media, including  the Oregon Whitewater Association, SUP PDX, Stand Up Portland, PNW whitewater, and many others. Trips are also available through local paddle shops, university outdoor programs, and outfitter guides.

If you decide to try out paddling in the colder part of the year, there are several ways to do so safely and enjoy it as a lifelong activity. Paddling offers ways to challenge yourself in learning and skill-building, become a part of a larger community of advanced boaters, connect with the water in new ways, and go on some cool trips. But it will always be your responsibility to know your ability level, stay within it, and be properly prepared for the challenges you may encounter on the water.

Boat smart, boat safe, and keep boating my friends.

Have you pulled the cord lately?

Inflatable life jackets have been on the market for two decades now and are a great option for many boaters. Inflatables come in many varieties including manual, automatic, hydrostatic, and hybrid mechanisms for harnesses, coats, or belt packs. Technology has really evolved along with the level of comfort. Inflatables are becoming more commonly seen and worn, which is a good thing compared to not wearing a life jacket of any kind. However, it’s only a good thing if you know how to properly wear, maintain, and care for this style of a life jacket. In the past few years, there have been multiple boating fatalities in Oregon from people wearing inflatable lifejackets that either malfunctioned or were tampered with outside the manufactures re-arming instructions and procedures.

Consider inflatable life jackets a mechanical device that requires routine maintenance. Reading the owner’s manual before use and being familiar with how to deploy the device is critical because, when you need it in an emergency, your fight or flight mode takes over from cognitive thinking. Practice holding the right side of the harness, following it down, and feeling for the rip cord. This will develop your muscle memory. Also, become familiar with the oral inflation tube and deflation mechanism. Get comfortable with the feel, versus relying on sight to deploy the cartridge.

The critical maintenance and care components include the bladder, inflation mechanism, CO2 cylinder, and harness which hold everything together. Each manufacturer may recommend different intervals for orally inflating and leaving an inflated lifejacket overnight in a room with a constant temperature. If the bladder loses air, it’s not going to help you, and is time for a new one. Pinhole punctures from hooks, wear points from being stored in seat boxes, and overall aging materials are red flags for replacement.

Additionally, there are components of the inflation mechanism that corrode over time and the CO2 cartridges have a shelf life of up to five years. If you go to a sporting goods store to purchase a replacement cartridge, always check the expiration date. It is not uncommon to see store inventory get stagnant, so keep an eye out for a current-year cartridge. Please know that there are many types of CO2 cartridges, sizes, and attachment methods to the inflation mechanism. Each inflatable life jacket contains a tag with cartridge specifications from the manufacturer near the mechanism. Equally as important, not all inflatables are sold with CO2 cartridges installed. Some inflatable cartridges are sold separately.

If you haven’t worn an inflatable life jacket deployed in the water before, you’re encouraged to give it a try in a controlled environment. Use the oral inflation tube to add or release air. Try to self-rescue by swimming or doing other physical things outside just treading water. You may find the life jacket doesn’t fit your frame well or is not what you anticipated. Keep in mind there are activity-specific inflatable life jackets on the market today that are inherently buoyant (foam style) and very comfortable to wear.

What we know is life jackets work when they’re taken care of and worn. Nationally, 85% of boating fatality victims were not wearing a life jacket. Oregon’s statistics mirror the national statistics closely.

Please wear a life jacket, especially when crossing a coastal bar, during solo operations, and in cold-water conditions.

Learn more about life jackets for any type of boating activity!

See what happens when Brian jumps into a pool wearing an automatic harness-style inflatable. There is a delay and Brian submerges several feet before the device is automatically activated. Inflatables are not recommended for anyone who has a fear of the water or is a novice swimmer.

The More You Know -Be a Smart Skipper

Motorized boater behind the wheelThere are the fortunate few who are naturals with whatever they do; naturals at playing sports, naturals with playing games, and even naturals with learning. And then there are the rest of us -the ones who need to follow the adage, “Practice makes perfect.” Whether propelled by motor, oar, or paddle, every boat type is unique; hull design, draft, freeboard, and propulsion all work together for optimum movement in the water.

Infographic of the year and phase in by age groupDuring the 1980s and ’90s, Oregon witnessed a peak in recreational motorboat use, with personal watercraft leading the trend. This increase came with more accidents, fatalities, and property damage, which helped Oregon to become one of the first states in the nation to adopt a mandatory education requirement to improve boating safety. In 1999, the Oregon Legislature passed the Mandatory Boater Education requirement for boaters operating a motorboat with a motor over 10 hp. The legislature gave the Marine Board from 2003 to 2009 to “phase in” the requirement. From 2000 to 2002, some boaters completed a voluntary home study option and applied for their mandatory education card. The card, like a driver’s license, must be carried when operating a boat with a motor over 10 hp and must be presented to a marine law enforcement officer if stopped.

Sample boating safety education card

The first step is to take a boating safety course. The Marine Board offers three education options: an equivalency exam through local Sheriff’s Offices, a classroom course, or a NASBLA-approved internet course. The goal is to offer as many approved course options as possible and keep costs low. Equivalency exams are free, and a free Internet course is available, with other internet options. Many classroom course providers charge a small fee to cover facility rental and material costs. The second step is applying for the boating safety education card. One option is to go to the Marine Board’s Boat Oregon Store, click “Online Services” and select “Boater Education Card Application” from the drop-down menu. Internet course providers also offer the option of applying for the card after successfully passing. You can also fill out and print a paper application form and mail it along with the $20 fee for the card and a copy of the course completion certificate to the Marine Board. It takes two to three weeks from the date of receipt to receive the card via US Mail. Boaters can also order a replacement card if their original card ever gets lost or damaged.

Recreational Boating Incidents and Fatalities ChartHaving a baseline knowledge of boat operation and the navigation rules has improved overall safety in Oregon; motorized *boating incidents have decreased over time while fatalities remain flat, but nonmotorized incidents and fatalities are slowly increasing.

Operating any type of boat safely takes hands-on skill building AND learning. Because waterways don’t have lines to follow, and motorboats don’t have brakes, it’s important to learn how your boat maneuvers and handles in different waterways under changing conditions.

With education, you also learn what different boaters need to operate safely. Knowing the needs of other boaters and sharing the water are topics covered in the courses. For example, boats operating on plane generate the least amount of wake compared to idling, but quickly slowing down will generate the largest wake and can easily capsize a paddler. Education courses also cover how a paddler can best maneuver into an approaching wake in locations where motorized boats are also present.

Being on the water and knowing what action to take requires practice. And people learn differently. Some learn best by doing, others by seeing, and others learn best from hearing instruction. Most learn with a combination of all three forms. And like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s also easy to get rusty or complacent. Consider continuing education to expand your skillset by joining a local paddling or drift club, or a power boating organization like the Coast Guard Auxiliary or US Power Squadrons. Many have informative websites and social media platforms with local information, trip itineraries, social events, and safety tips. The Marine Board also offers free online paddling courses!

Boating continues to evolve and grow. The more you know, the more likely you are to become an even more FUNctional Skipper!

*The term “incident” can be used synonymously with an accident and involves a wider range of causes, activities, and types of boating accidents. 

Think of Meg…

Every time you hit the water

Meg O’Meara Clark

Meagan O’Meara Clark went out with friends for a fun, relaxing float on the Clackamas River back on July 5, 2013. The day was a typical sunny, hot day not unlike most Julys in Oregon. The water, however, remained cold. The float was a popular one, from Barton Park to Carver Park, roughly a 5.5-miles, on the meandering river, with shallow, sloped areas making for fun “chutes” and gravel bars to pull over for respite.

Meg had been taking breaks to beach her tube and swim periodically. An accomplished swimmer, Meg was comfortable in the water and felt like she was in her element. Meg was floating with her step-brother, Jack Eichhorn. The day had been a blast and just upstream of the Carver boat ramp where floaters take out, Meg jumped in the water for one last dip before the end of the trip. Although this time, she did not resurface. Dive teams and other first responders searched the area for quite some time, which proved difficult. Her family joined in the rescue efforts, although by day three, it was now a recovery mission. Meg’s body was recovered in 15 feet of water, close to where she went in.

Image of the Clackamas River from the shoreline

A calm-appearing eddy at the Big Eddy Day Use Area on the Clackamas River.

The area where Meg was recovered turned out to be a deep eddy. The surface can appear to be stagnant or not moving, like a calm pool. An eddy is an area of circular current that tends to flow in the opposite direction from the main river current. Eddies can be caused by an obstruction in the river like a rock, root wad, or fallen tree. Not all obstructions are submerged, however, many are. An eddy forms on the downstream side of the obstruction. As the water flows around the obstruction, some of the water flows back on itself to fill in the space before circling back in the direction of the main flow.

Meg’s father, Rob O’Meara got the call from Jack. The heart-stopping moment every parent fears. Jack said he and his friends couldn’t find Meg after she’d gone into the water for a swim. Rob remembers thinking, “She’s fine. She’s alive,” and holding on to hope that she was able to get to the riverbank and perhaps was onshore. Rob would be one of the family members to find her on that third day after she didn’t resurface. “The spot where she went under acted like a whirlpool. You can’t tell from the top, but once you get in it sucks you down.”

This section of the Clackamas River is popular with people seeking to cool off and have fun in innertubes and pool toys during the hot summer months. The river appears tranquil and is extremely inviting with a trance-like meditative quality and bursts of faster Class I-II rapids to shake you awake. Even though the specifics like the water temperature and river volume can be easy to overlook, the “Barton to Carver” float in July in an inner tube can take anywhere from four to five hours without a paddle, depending on the water volume. What can be a three-hour float during periods of high water volume in the spring, generally means colder water temperature. As the summer progresses, the water temperature slowly warms, and water volume decreases as do the water levels. So even on those hot August nights, it could take four to six hours to float with the current alone, and faster with a paddle.

People floating on the Clackamas River

A group of people just starting their float wearing their new life jackets from the O’Meara family.

What many floaters are unaware of is the toll environmental stressors can have on the body. Sun exposure, dehydration (from lack of water or consuming beverages that dehydrate the body like alcohol or caffeinated drinks), glare, wind, and wave action can cause fatigue, a headache, imbalance, slow reaction time, and disorientation. Then there’s the water temperature.

When floating on most types of innertubes, part of the body is submerged. As the body cools, blood moves to the body’s core to keep organs warm, as a protection mechanism. This also means that arms and legs begin to move slower and may even become numb. If a person unexpectedly falls out of the tube, the tube will rush away with the current, often leaving the less dexterous floater in a state of panic. This can quickly lead to gasping in water, with limbs flailing. Drowning can occur quickly and silently. The victim generally cannot make any sounds. Newer float tubes designed for rivers have mesh bottoms, which help prevent too much of the body from being submerged. These are a great option for floats that last multiple hours.

Image of Meg O'Meara honoring her memory with a happy helper to fit life jackets

Banner of Meg O’Meara for a life jacket giveaway at Barton Park and one of the happy recipients.

One thing Meg’s family echoes loudly is the fact she wasn’t wearing a life jacket. Her parents and siblings all agree that life jackets save lives. Jack reflected on that day in July, “If we had life jackets on I think we could have prevented this tragedy.” So in 2015, the family created “Meg’s Moments”, a nonprofit that collected cash donations and gently used life jackets for the sole purpose of giving them away to people recreating on the Clackamas River. The goal was simple: help save lives and honor Meg’s memory. Family members came out each year until 2021 giving away thousands of life jackets. The nonprofit dissolved, but the mission did not. “We don’t want anyone else to drown on this river,” says Rob O’Meara. With a quaking voice filled with passion and grief, he said, “It’s preventable. A simple thing like wearing a life jacket. It doesn’t matter how well you can swim. Meg was a great swimmer. It didn’t matter.”

Life jackets being given to a father and daughter

Rob and Jan O’Meara talking about life jackets to a father and daughter during a giveaway event at Carver Park

Meg’s family is now working with Oregon’s Nautical Safety Foundation to provide their remaining stock life jackets for donation to life jacket loaner stations along the Clackamas River.

There are some common denominators when looking at incident and fatality information on Oregon’s rivers, including the Clackamas:

  • Life jacket not worn or not fitted properly
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Extended submersion in cold water
  • Entrapment in rope or river obstructions (downed trees, root wads, rocks, other submerged objects, etc.)

It is usually a combination of two or more of the above factors that cause fatalities or serious accidents.

The Oregon State Marine Board advocates that everyone wear a life jacket, especially when in and around rivers or shorelines with steep, unstable banks. Drop-offs and underwater obstructions, combined with strong currents catch people off-guard. And even if you’re a good swimmer, everyone responds the same to cold water immersion. It takes roughly one minute to calm the breath and stop hyperventilating. It only takes 10 minutes of immersion to feel the effects of cold water. Most people become hypothermic within 30 minutes in Oregon’s waterways. Life jackets not only buy you time by keeping the head above water to regain breathing but time to self-rescue. Life jackets also help keep the core of the body warm. Even when the air temperature is hot outside, wearing a life jacket is the best choice one can make.

Image of the Clackamas County Fire & Rescue Team with Meg's brother Derrek (back row) Mother, Brinda Doyle, and Father, Rob O'Meara in the front row.

Clackamas County Fire & Rescue Team with Meg’s brother Derrek (back row) Mother, Brinda Doyle, and Father, Rob O’Meara in the front row.

In partnership with Meg’s Moments and the Nautical Safety Foundation, the Marine Board, working with other willing partners, offers grant assistance to build and maintain life jacket loaner stations around the state. The agency has a life jacket loaner station map to help families plan their adventures around where life jackets can be borrowed and returned for the day.

Rob says, “If a life jacket can help just one person. Just one when they need it, then Meg’s memory will live on.”

Staff at the Marine Board owe deep gratitude to the O’Meara family and friends for the money raised through Meg’s Moments to purchase life jackets and for the many donating organizations such as the Clackamas Fire District #1 throughout the years. The Marine Board will honor Meg’s memory on its Life Jacket Loaner Station page and social media posts throughout the summer months each season.

So on those sizzling hot summer days when the water calls, think of Meg…and wear a life jacket.

Image of a boat prop, paddler in a canoe and sailboat winch with line

Explore Westport

A mixed-use boating access facility “makeover” -15 years in the making

Westport Park boat ramp before significant improvements to access

Before picture of Clatsop County’s Westport boat ramp and boarding docks. (Click on the image to enlarge)

Located in the Westport Slough with an outlet into the Columbia River, this boating access location is a gem for Oregon.

In 2007, Clatsop County had a vision for its Westport County Park to turn it into a first-class mixed-use boating facility. This turned into a long-term commitment spanning over a decade, evolving into multiple-phased plans for improving boating access. The Marine Board Boating Facilities Program had identified the Westport site as a high priority for grant funding in its 2011-2017 boating facilities 6-year plan

Arial image of the Westport Slough

Aerial view of the Westport Slough and channel into the Columbia River. (Click on the image to enlarge)

Back in 2011, the projected costs for new restrooms, expanded parking, new ramp and docks were close to $1 million dollars.

Fast forward to 2021 and 2022, the cost of contracting, construction, supplies, fabrication, permitting, and other materials turned Westport into a multi-million dollar project. Due to supply chain issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost of aluminum skyrocketed. Fortunately, good planning and budgeting by the Marine Board helped this project stay within its scope, along with the significant contributions by other federal funding sources, Clatsop County, and the Columbia River Yachting Association.

The final plans included adding an accessible nonmotorized boat dock with a 120 x 5-foot gangway to reduce the slope during low tide, improving usability for persons with mobility challenges. The gangway also connects to a short-term tie-up dock for motorized boaters. The new two-lane concrete boat ramp, aluminum boarding docks, flush restroom, large boat trailer and single car parking areas, day-use, and park host make this a safe and inviting destination. 

With permits, plans, designs, and contractors in place, construction began in the summer of 2021.

In-water work to set the concrete planks in place for the boat ramp. (Click on the  image to enlarge)

FUNDING SOURCES (for permitting, design, engineering, materials and construction):

Boating Facility Grant from the Marine Board – $1,029,768
Waterway Access Grant – $214,466
Federal Boating Infrastructure Grant – $270,422
Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife -Sport Fish Restoration Grant- $1,000,000
Clatsop County Contribution – $880,770
Columbia River Yachting Association- $5,000

Total Project Cost: $3,408,426

Westport boating access site was dedicated on February 1, 2022, with Board Member Laura Jackson in attendance representing the agency. 

The Westport boating access site is perfect for launching and retrieving and short-term tie-ups for cruisers making their way to the Pacific Ocean or upstream to other destinations. Consider a “staycation” and take advantage of the wonderful boating and exploring opportunities in the area! 

For more information about the Marine Board, its programs, and how this self-supporting agency serves recreational boaters, visit

To see more images of the Westport facility dedication, visit the Westport Photo Album on the Marine Board’s Facebook page. 

Short-term tie-up dock to the nonmotorized boat launch area


Captain Ken Tennefoss’ boat, “Mucho Gusto,” a 50’ Ocean Alexander cruising vessel was the first to tie up to the dock

What Dis-ability? The Healing Power of Boating

A day in 1969 changed the trajectory of Craig Withee’s life. A car accident left him a paraplegic, but that has not slowed down this retired Civil Engineer from Bend. In 2018, Craig Withee was appointed to the Marine Board and brought with him not only his 38-years of experience in facility engineering, operations and management for the Department of Army and the Federal Aviation Administration, but a perspective from an avid mixed-use boater and angler who happens to live with physical limitations. Withee offers his perspectives around the opportunities -and barriers for persons with disabilities to connect with the outdoors with a call to action for policy makers, planners, and the recreational boating public.

Throughout his life, Withee has maintained a love for the outdoors, especially for boating, cruising, fishing and hunting. He’s owned and operated many motorized and nonmotorized boats and has experience on every type of waterway; in lakes, rivers and the ocean, including Alaska bush country, busy ocean harbors, and large river drainages. Withee’s outdoor enthusiasm has continued into retirement with boating on the high lakes and rivers in Central Oregon and the coastal communities in Reedsport, Florence, and Newport. Most of his outdoor experiences have included his wheelchair, which has not hampered his pursuit for life and adventure.

One thing for sure, connecting in nature and being on the water helps heal the soul. “People need the opportunity -need the social acceptance, as well as the facilities and the capability to get on the water. When you’re in a wheelchair, or have other disabilities, you’re isolated. A lot of times you withdraw because you feel that you’re not accepted and you’re not capable of doing the things you want to do.” Withee, proves them wrong, but on some adventures, it takes a team of help from family and hired outfitter guides where accommodations from the land to the water aren’t available. “Getting from a boarding dock with bullrails onto a boat is nearly impossible. But having wheelchair space between railings at more sites would allow me to maneuver by myself into my boat.” Withee has found solace and liberation on the coast, where getting down the gangway needs to be carefully timed with the tide, as a different challenge.

Withee has an aluminum boat, specifically designed for his wheelchair and maneuvering once inside. Another barrier is finding a boat builder who can modify boats for people with physical limitations. This too, has not deterred him.

Withee also uses a modified Flycraft inflatable boat with electric motor, complete with a throttle extension so he has full control of his adventure. “The tough part is transitioning from the chair to the kayak seat, but it’s a good workout.” Withee adds, “When I’m out on the water, I’m completely free. I have no disability.” Invigorating, energizing, and liberating are other key words he uses to describe how being on the water helps with his healing.

As a member of the Marine Board, Withee is passionate about state agencies working together toward equity and inclusion, as well as improving/expanding ADA access and highlighting places for persons with disabilities to go.  

“If we’re able to give people opportunities and make them aware of what’s out there -what they can and what they’re welcome to do, then they’ll participate! We’d have a lot more of them engaged in society. That’s what I think needs to happen. Inclusion for all. Ways to work better together and accessible for all.”

An unfortunate reality for Withee is what happens when he’s trying to launch or retrieve his boats from the water. “People get impatient. My wife or other friends will tell people who ask why we’re hogging up the boarding dock, to “see for yourself,” and then witness Withee as he wheels himself down the ramp. “If people open their eyes, have acceptance and some patience, they’ll see the challenges persons with disabilities face. If facility providers help improve access to the water, the public will ultimately see the benefits to themselves, as well as the disabled community.”

The Marine Board and its boating facilities program helps public facility owners with permitting, design and engineering services, and grant funding for boat ramps, nonmotorized launches, boarding docks, parking areas, and restroom facilities.

Land-based improvements and new dock designs also adhere to federal ADA requirements. The challenge is in the transition from land to the water on tidally influenced waterbodies, reservoirs with large water fluctuations or where other natural barriers exist. The agency is committed to exploring options and expanding partnerships to help connect people to the water for all its healing benefits.


Learn more about the Marine Board, its boating facilities program, and use the interactive Boat Oregon Online Maps to help plan your on-water healing journey at Be sure check out the nonmotorized and electric motor only map layer to find waterbodies with lower gradients and shallow sloping to access the water.

Rules of the Road, Series VII

Sound Signals and Restricted Visibility

Last but not least, sound signals! Sound signals are a rudimentary form of communication and have been around since Fred Flintstone squeezed a Pterodactyl strapped to the top of his car. Since then, horns and whistles have evolved and their use for navigational sound signals falls into one of two categories: signals used when in sight of other vessels and signals when not in sight of other vessels. The majority of recreational boaters don’t understand how to apply these signals and in most cases avoid using them. I’ve heard several reasons for the lack of use by recreational boaters, such as they confuse other vessels in the area, or “Other boaters don’t use them, so why should I?” But mostly it’s just not part of the culture. Realistically, if you are paying close attention and have good situational awareness, you shouldn’t have to use sound signals in all but close-quarter situations.

All vessels, motorized or non-motorized, are required to carry a sound-producing device or as defined in the rules, a “whistle.” In Rule 33, the word whistle means “any sound signaling appliance capable of producing the prescribed blasts and which complies with specifications in Annex III to these Rules (33 CFR part 86).” So a horn or whistle, manual or mechanical, that can produce an audible sound, is required. For vessels under 12 meters, 39.4 feet, there is no specific audible range listed. Vessels over 12 meters but less than 20 meters (65.6 ft) must have a half-mile audible range. Realistically you might only hear a sound signal from another small vessel when within 100 yards so this is why you should closely adhere to Rules 5, 6, 7 and 8,  by establishing a risk of collision in plenty of time where simply maneuvering early will remove the risk. Again, if you mitigate the risk early enough, sound signals may not be necessary. Regardless, recreational boaters should know the basic signals and make every attempt to use them when the situation warrants.

I made a promise in my first article that I was going to stay away from international rules because they are so similar to inland rules that the differences would just be confusing, but sound signals are not one of those instances. First, we need to discuss where the boundaries are between international and inland rules. The boundary lines are charted and also listed in the Code of Federal Regulations. They are also listed in the back of the navigation rules book. These boundary lines are called lines of demarcation, normally a line one can infer between jetty tips or headlands on smaller estuaries where coastal waters transition to inland waters. Larger bays and sounds will normally remain under international rules, so it is always best to check which rules apply in the waterway you intend to use. The difference between the two is that under international rules your maneuvering signals are signals of action whereas under inland rules maneuvering signals are signals of intent. For inland rules, if risk of collision exists and you sound one short blast of the horn, you are intending to bring the other vessel down your port side, turning to starboard. The other vessel would repeat that signal to indicate that it understands and the maneuver is made. International rules are signals of action.  If you’re in international waters and risk of collision exists or if you’re in a waterway or channel and turning into the direction or possible path of other vessels at a bend or channel entrance, the maneuvering signals are sounded and the maneuver completed. There is no requirement for the other vessel to respond.

For recreational vessels in inland waters, the signals are pretty basic and easy to remember because there are only two: a short blast and a prolonged blast. The term short blast means a blast of about 1 second’s duration. The term prolonged blast means a blast from 4 to 6 seconds in duration.   These can be in different combinations, but if you separate those signals that are used when in sight of another vessel and those when not in sight, it becomes very easy. Let’s talk about when vessel are in sight of each other; Rule 34. No matter the situation, always think, “If I sound one short blast, it means I intend to turn to starboard and bring the other vessel down your port side.” Similarly, two short blasts turning to port and bring the other vessel down your starboard side. That’s it! You have just graduated the “signals when vessels are in sight of one another,” course.

As with any of the rules, there is a fail-safe clause known as the “Danger Signal.”  When doubt exists as to the intentions of the other vessel, you should sound 5 or more short blasts in rapid succession:  (d) When vessels in sight of one another are approaching each other; and, from any cause, either vessel fails to understand the intentions or actions of the other, or is in doubt whether sufficient action is being taken by the other to avoid collision, the vessel in doubt shall immediately indicate such doubt by giving at least five short and rapid blasts on the whistle. So if you are in a situation where the risk of collision exists and you are unsure, or the other vessel operator is unsure, of what’s taking place anyone can sound 5 short blasts of the horn.  When you hear that signal, it means that you should take immediate action, under the applicable rule for that situation, and maneuver accordingly. Assuming that the signal does not apply to you could be a deadly assumption.

If you can make contact with the other vessel on the VHF radio and agree on how to pass each other, then whistle signals are not required. (h) A vessel that reaches agreement with another vessel in a head-on, crossing, or overtaking situation, as for example, by using the radiotelephone as prescribed by the Vessel Bridge-to-Bridge Radiotelephone Act (85 Stat. 164; 33 U.S.C. 1201 et seq.), is not obliged to sound the whistle signals prescribed by this Rule, but may do so. If agreement is not reached, then whistle signals shall be exchanged in a timely manner and shall prevail.

Operating in restricted visibility has the highest factor of risk that you will encounter while recreational boating. Great care and alertness should be a priority and unless there is some greater compelling reason to be underway, it’s probably best to remain at the dock until conditions improve. The worst-case scenario as far as restricted visibility goes, would be fog. But in the case you are caught up in the fog, your awareness should be heightened.  Before we get into Rule 35, we need to go back to establish the conduct of vessels operating in restricted visibility before addressing the signals required.

In Rule 19, vessels have a specific responsibility when navigating in or near an area of restricted visibility.  In a nutshell, it is a rule of detection and avoidance where the rules for a vessel in sight of one another don’t apply. Rule 19 is about reducing risk.  We know the audible range of a sound signal is approximately one-half mile. So you can surmise that if your visibility is less or close to a half-mile then it is an appropriate time to take this rule into account. What do you do? First, slow down; (b) Every vessel shall proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility. A power-driven vessel shall have her engines ready for immediate maneuver.  You have to fall back to the basic rules for vessels operating in all conditions of visibility. That would be Rules 5 through 8. Maintain a proper lookout and use passengers to help you observe, through sight and sound, what is happening around you. Make sure that lookouts (your passengers) are properly briefed and that their attention is solely focused on detecting the presence of other vessels in the area. Never assign lookouts to other tasks. Their focus should only be toward detecting other vessels so you can determine if a risk of collision exists.  You should also operate at a safe speed for the prevailing conditions so that you can take proper and effective action to avoid a collision if necessary. Never operate at a speed where you are unable to stop within a distance appropriate to the prevailing conditions.  A good rule of thumb is to be able to stop within your boat’s length. Use all available means to determine if the risk of collision exists. Most importantly, if the circumstances of the case admit, you shall take positive action in ample time with the due regard to good seamanship to avoid a collision. So navigation lights on, slow down, post lookouts determine if a risk of collision exists, even if you can’t see the other vessel, and take action to avoid a collision.

 So how do you avoid a collision if you can’t see the other vessel?  (e) Except where it has been determined that a risk of collision does not exist, every vessel which hears apparently forward of her beam the fog signal of another vessel, or which cannot avoid a close-quarters situation with another vessel forward of her beam, shall reduce her speed to the minimum at which she can be kept on course. She shall if necessary take all her way off and, in any event, navigate with extreme caution until danger of collision is over. 

So let’s say you have radar. (d) A vessel which detects by radar alone the presence of another vessel shall determine if a close-quarters situation is developing and/or risk of collision exists. If so, she shall take avoiding action in ample time, provided that when such action consists of an alteration of course, so far as possible the following shall be avoided:

(i) An alteration of course to port for a vessel forward of the beam, other than for a vessel being overtaken;

(ii) An alteration of course toward a vessel abeam or abaft the beam.

So in order to make this happen, we need to go back to the sound signals used when vessels are not in sight. Rule 35  As a power-driven vessel underway, you only need to concern yourself with two signals. Underway and making progress (make way), would be one prolonged blast (4 to 6 seconds in duration) of the whistle every two minutes. If you are stopped and drifting or not making way, you sound 2 prolonged blasts every 2 minutes with a one-second interval between blasts. That’s it!  If everyone is following these rules, you should be able to tell what direction another vessel is from you and how close they are. If the sound is coming from a constant direction and is getting louder you are likely at risk of collision. Slow down or stop.

If you hear any other signals such as one prolonged and two short or one prolonged and three short, all you need to realize is you need to stay clear of that vessel and follow Rule 19 above. Vessels sounding those signals are higher in the hierarchy (Rule 18) and you would be required to avoid them even in good visibility. For those with radar, if you detect any vessel ahead or forward of your beam turn to starboard. If the other vessel is abeam or aft of you, do not turn toward it and continue to monitor your radar and adjust as things change. In any situation, good or bad visibility, if you are uncomfortable or unsure of the situation STOP. Monitor the movement of the other vessel and take the best course of action necessary to avoid a collision.

Hopefully, you can see that there is nothing mystical about sound signals.  My persistent message throughout all of these articles is if you can identify the risk of collision early, make a reasonable course adjustment to remove the risk of collision, you will probably never use sound signals. When you determine that risk of collision exists, letting people know your intentions,  or in the case of restricted visibility, notifying them of your presence with sound signals is merely being a safe and responsible boater. Staying focused on the safety of everyone on the water should be your primary concern. This is also the reason why we have and should follow all the rules of navigation. The rules benefit all boaters and waterway users. It’s never wrong to ask someone to help interpret the rules if you don’t understand them. To disregard them can be a costly or fatal mistake.

As a final thought, no matter the situation, the vessel Captain has the ultimate responsibility for safe navigation. Whether it is a kayak or a superyacht, the responsibility and liability falls on their shoulders.  Having a working understanding of the navigation rules is the single most important skill a boat operator can learn. Always remember, “Superior Mariners use their Superior Knowledge to avoid situations that require their Superior Skills.”

US Coast Guard District 13 LogoBy: Dan Shipman,
Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
13th Coast Guard District


The Marine Board is directly funded by boaters in the form of registration, title, and permit fees, as well as through marine fuel taxes. No lottery, general fund tax dollars or local facility parking fees support the agency or its programs. Boater-paid fees support the boating public through boating safety services (on-the-water law enforcement, training, and equipment), boating safety education, grants for the construction and maintenance of boating access facilities, and environmental protection programs. For more information about the Marine Board and its programs, visit

Navigation Rules of the Road -Series VI

The Importance of Lighting

Call me a nerd, but I love navigation lights.  When you look through this section of the rules there is a festival of different lighting configurations from skiffs to submarines and everything in between. If you’re following along through the previous articles you may have noticed that there is always the overreaching basic set of rules that apply to everyone regardless of vessel type or service. The same thing holds true for navigation lights. For the recreational boater, it’s pretty simple, you need a mast light, stern light and green and red running lights (Figure 1). That’s it, we’re done, short article! You know I’m not going to let you off that easy because there is a lot that needs to be explained because the devil is in the details when it comes to navigation lights.

Figure 1, the correct mast, stern, red and green running lights.

Looking through the rule book you might ask yourself, why are there so many different light configurations? To answer that question you have to look back at Rule 18 covering the hierarchy of vessels.  Simplistically, other vessels displaying more or different lights than you are higher in the hierarchy in Rule 18.   So if they have more lights than the standard lighting configuration you automatically are the give-way vessel. I’m not going to attempt to address all the different lighting configurations because it will only be confusing and I want to keep this reasonably short and to the point but if you want to get into depth on lighting for vessels not under command, fishing, trawling dredging, etc., you can reference the actual rules, NAVRULES.

There is always an exception and the general lighting configuration -Figure 1 is no different, but those differences are due to the physical size of the vessel. As vessels get smaller there is less room available to display these lights at the distance of separation required in other parts of the rules. Power-driven vessels of less than 12 meters in length (39.4 ft) do not have to display an individual stern light but may instead, display a 360 degree all around white light (Figure 2).  The majority of recreational vessels display this alternate lighting configuration.

All vessels must display the basic lighting configuration. The additional lighting required for vessels higher in the hierarchy is only displayed when they are actively engaged in whatever activity places them in a special status. Once their status changes, they revert back to being a power-driven vessel underway. Bottom line, a recreational boat will only display basic lights required by all vessels.  That said, there is still much more that the average recreational boater needs to know about navigation lights.

Figure 2, bow and all-round white light configuration for small recreational boats.

When are navigation lights required?  As always, consult the rule of applicability for that section of the rules. Rule 20, (a) Rules in this subpart (Rules 20-31) (§83.20 through §83.31) shall be complied with in all weathers.

(b) The Rules concerning lights (§83.20 through §83.31) shall be complied with from sunset to sunrise, and during such times no other lights shall be exhibited, except such lights as cannot be mistaken for the lights specified in these Rules or do not impair their visibility or distinctive character, or interfere with the keeping of a proper lookout.

Translation: when you are running at night or in restricted visibility you should not be showing any lights other than the navigation lights required. The exception noted is that if you have other lighting on board it cannot have the characteristics of the lights required by the rules; red, green, white or amber. Non-navigation lights cannot be positioned or be so bright that they obscure the required navigation lights or they create so much glare that they impair the ability of anyone on board from being able to see in the course of standing a proper lookout.

I know what everyone is thinking, “What about the big honking floodlights almost everyone has on their boats?” In Rule 36, Signals to Attract Attention, a vessel “may direct a searchlight in the direction of danger in such a way as to not embarrass any vessel”. This rule would allow such lighting but, if you have floodlighting installed you should not use them like headlights on a car. Turn them off when approaching other vessels so that you do not compromise their night vision or obscure your navigation lights. The bright light basically blinds and disorients others just like someone shining a flashlight in your face. Normal night vision only returns after the light has been extinguished and the eyes have had adequate time to readjust. I have had a personal experience with just that type of situation and in fog or reduced visibility and it is dangerous. It’s all about respect for the other guy. Give them a break and turn the lights off until you’re well clear.

Back to why they are required, (c) The lights prescribed by these Rules shall, if carried, also be exhibited from sunrise to sunset in restricted visibility and may be exhibited in all other circumstances when it is deemed necessary.

So it’s not just after the sunsets. When you encounter rain, sleet, snow, hail, fog and dark of night your navigation lights should be used. Even smoke if there is enough to restrict visibility. So navigation lights are one of the most important pieces of equipment you have on your boat when it’s dark or visibility is compromised. They alert others of your presence and provide a snapshot of your activity.

Let’s review the light characteristics themselves. In Rule 21, definitions, all vessels under 39.4 feet in length are required to have an all-around white mast light (360 degrees) and port and starboard running lights, 112.5 degrees each. The all-around white mast light incorporates the stern light so that it can be seen in a 360-degree arch (Figure 2). Vessel over 39.4 feet must have a separate mast and stern light that must cover that same 360 degree arch with the mast light being seen in a 225-degree arch forward. The masthead lights arc of visibility is exactly the same as the combined arc of visibility of the port and starboard running lights. In this configuration, the stern light covers the remaining 135 degrees aft (Figure 2). Regardless, if you are over or under 39.4 feet in length other vessels will see the white light approaching from any direction (Figure 3). Pretty standard display with some minor exceptions when it comes to vessels under sail, Rule 25, where the mast light is not required.

Figure 3, correct placement of bow lighting and angles of visibility.

Federal recreational vessel manufacturer requirements make the proper placement pretty standard but we continually find new boats where the lighting is not correctly placed. Hopefully, I will be able to explain what to look for and your responsibilities in making sure the proper lights are displayed in the proper configuration. There are some very specific standards that navigation lights must comply with in order to meet visible distance requirements and prevent bleed over so that each lights sector is precisely defined from the others. In Rule 22, Visibility of Lights, For recreational boats under 39.4 feet in length the lights prescribed in these Rules shall have an intensity as specified in these Rules (33 CFR part 84), so as to be visible at the following minimum ranges: A masthead light, 2 miles; A sidelight, 1 mile; A stern light, 2 miles.

So now we have entered the mystery section in the rules, buried back in the dusty pages, where no one ever looks. These are known as the annexes! This is where the technical details of navigation lights; whistle signals and other information pertaining to them hide. Most of the rules we deal with are concerned with the operation and display of the signals.  Here is where you find the technical details of how they are constructed and function. There are specific chromaticity (color) standards. Minimum luminous intensity and most importantly the horizontal and vertical sectoring.

This is important because if you could put any old light any place you want, the uniformity in clarity, color, and sectoring to distinguish what the lights represent, would be lost. Vertical and horizontal sectoring of lights is the most important part of these standards. Horizontal sectoring ensures that the moment you can see the color change from one light to the next, you realize your relative bearing has changed. So if you were standing out in directly in front of your boat you should see both red and green lights. Step from one side to the other you should see either the red and green lights, depending on which side you choose to move, quickly disappear. You should only have to move one to three degrees of arc for that to happen. Three degrees is a very small zone. (a)(i) In the forward direction, sidelights, as fitted on the vessel, shall show the minimum required intensities. The intensities shall decrease to reach practical cut-off between 1 and 3 degrees outside the prescribed sectors. The intensity of the light has a significant part in the correct sectoring of lights. If the light is too bright or intense it can bleed over and or virtually eliminate the sectored separation between other lights.

How and where you mount navigation lights can also affect the horizontal zone.  If the lights are not mounted parallel to each other and pointed directly ahead the zones will cross making them visible further outside the lights intended sector. This gives a false representation of your exact heading and can greatly increase your risk of collision.  This not only affects your perspective but if your display is incorrect, it affects other boater’s ability to correctly assess what direction you are going and increase the risk. This not only affects you when meeting in a head-on situation but also when overtaking another vessel from astern. You should normally see the navigation light appear when your relative bearing is from the vessel being overtaken is 112.5 degrees relative, aft, of the vessel.  If the lights are mounted improperly, you may not see that light until you are well forward of the vessel’s beam. This increases your risk of collision in that what appears to be an overtaking situation may, in fact, be a crossing situation and you could actually be on a collision course. You can see the difference in the visual area looking at figure 3 and 4.  If the lights are improperly mounted the purple zone is where the two running light cross falsely making the vessel look like it is coming at you head-on. Note that the visual portion of the zone aft is also severely distorted.  This can pose serious problems with other boaters being able to understand your direction of movement.

Figure 4, incorrect lighting installation creating a crossover effect, increasing the risk of collision.

When you buy a new boat, the manufacture should properly place the navigation lights in accordance with Annex I and you should never have a problem.  Regardless, when buying a boat, pay attention to the navigation light placement because there could still be a possibility they could have been installed incorrectly.  The Coast Guard has contracted factory inspectors that travel around to visit boat manufacturers to make sure lights and other manufacturer regulations and standards are maintained, but sometimes boats can make it out of the shop before the inspector has a chance to inspect the facility. This is the exception and not the rule by any means. This is only an issue when lights have been mounted into the hull at the peak of the bow. These lights should be mounted parallel to each other or be in a single combination red/ green light at the peak of the bow. If not mounted correctly and the visible light sectors cross, you can have up to 30 or 40 degrees of bleed over into the other lights sector.

Mast lights are pretty simple.  Most problems with mast lighting tend to be with respect to them not being placed high enough above the vessel to be visible or blocked from providing 360-degree visibility. The other situation is when towers or radar arches are installed either by the manufacturer or aftermarket. Boaters like to place a lot of accessories on them like spotlights, speakers, radars, antenna, etc. In this application, the light should be positioned so that it is high enough above those accessories that it is visible 360 degrees when the vessel is on a plane. That height would be approximately 8 inches above the highest point on the vessel. Another problem with the aftermarket installation is that the tower is not equipped with a light mast, so if you are going to put on an aftermarket tower, insist that it is designed for a mast light and that the light is high enough that it will not be blocked by other equipment. In addition, all vessels under 20 feet in length have a removable mast head light post, just over 3 feet in length that plug into a socket somewhere on the stern. Because it gets in the way or provides some glare, boaters tend to remove them and not display the light.

The latest boating fad is putting accent LED lights just about anywhere that someone thinks looks cool. They have their place and you can really customize your boat to fit your personality but, these should not be used underway. Remember, you cannot use lighting that impairs the visibility or distinctive character of required navigation lights, or uses any lights that interfere with the keeping of a proper lookout, or be mistaken for navigation lights prescribed by the rules. Blue lights, other than those on law enforcement vessels should not be used because they can be misidentified as lights on law enforcement vessels. They look cool but they are best used at the dock or when anchored.

As of November 2012, all navigation lights manufactured and sold in the United States must be Coast Guard approved.  This means they have to be constructed and perform to meet the requirements for intensity, color, and vertical and horizontal sectoring. If you are planning on replacing or upgrading your navigation light fixtures to LED it is important that you check for the Coast Guard Approval because some LED lights, especially strip lighting, do not meet those requirements.

How do you tell if the light you are purchasing is Coast Guard approved?  On the box, you should see a label that says “USCG approval 33 CFR 183.810”.  Each light has a specific visibility rating for different sizes of vessels. Recreational vessels less than 12 meters in length, 39.4 feet in length, lights should be rated at sidelights 1 nautical mile and white mast light 2 nautical miles. On the exterior of the light fixture, each light should be marked with “USCG” followed by the certified range of visibility in nautical miles (nm), for example, “USCG 2nm”. Once installed, this mark must be visible without removing the light.

This is a lot of information on navigation lights to digest.  Hopefully, you can walk away with a better appreciation of why they exist, how they function, and when they are required to be used. Navigation lights are very important to safe vessel operation and are probably one of the most neglected pieces of equipment on recreational vessels. I always like comparing boats to cars and in the case of navigation lights that serve the same purpose as tail lights, brake lights, turn signals and flashing amber lights on a motor vehicle. They are indicators of vessel presence, the direction of travel and signal the nature of the operation. For these reasons, it is important that your navigation lights are displayed properly and that you understand them in order to make safe risk assessment decisions.

US Coast Guard District 13 LogoBy: Dan Shipman,
Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
13th Coast Guard District


The Marine Board is directly funded by boaters in the form of registration, title, and permit fees, as well as through marine fuel taxes. No lottery, general fund tax dollars or local facility parking fees support the agency or its programs. Boater-paid fees support the boating public through boating safety services (on-the-water law enforcement, training, and equipment), boating safety education, grants for the construction and maintenance of boating access facilities, and environmental protection programs. For more information about the Marine Board and its programs, visit

Henry Hagg Lake -The Perfect Waterway Oasis

Nestled away between rolling hills in Washington County lies Scoggins Valley Park and Henry Hagg Lake; a man-made impoundment of Scoggins and Sain Creeks near Forest Grove, resting at the base of Northern Oregon’s Coast Range and just 25 miles from Portland.  This Bureau of Reclamation project is maintained and managed by Washington County Parks, which sees nearly 750,000 visitors per year and offers a wide variety of outdoor opportunities: cycling, hiking, swimming, and of course -boating.  The lake has two developed boat ramp facilities: Eagle Point (formerly known as A-Ramp) and C-Ramp, in addition to other access and lots of shoreline for swimmers, anglers, paddlecraft.  Hagg Lake when at full pool is 1100 surface acres, with roughly 12 miles of shoreline (1.8-mile area) and has boating rules in place that carve out space for a variety of users.

Longer, wider trailered parking spaces, new striping, and traffic flow make for easy maneuvering and less stress.

The Eagle Point boat ramp is a two-lane ramp, with 140 feet of boarding docks, 53-boat trailer stalls, 23 single car stalls, flush restroom, and a dump station.  The C-ramp has two lanes, 280 feet of boarding docks, a flush restroom, 169 boat trailer stalls, 74 single car parking stalls, and a dump station.  These two facilities receive the most use at the park.

In 2018, Washington County applied for a Boating Facilities Grant to seal coat and stripe the parking area at Eagle Point and overlay, stripe, install curbing, wheel stops, etc., at C-Ramp.  These ramps account for nearly 468,000 square feet of drive aisles and parking area.  Both ramps were identified as a high priority for boating facility grant dollars based on the agency’s 2011-2017 Six-Year Boating Facility Plan.  The county had a pavement management plan completed in 2017 and found that by seal coating, striping and curbing the C-Ramp, it would extend the useful life of the parking area by another 20 years.  Sealcoating and striping Eagle Point would extend the life by 5-10 years.  The estimated cost of repaving both parking areas ranged between $2.5-$4 million, so all parties agreed that the pavement treatments were a better approach.  The Board approved $300,959 in state boater funds to match $181,205 of county match.  The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fish Restoration and Enhancement Program awarded a $10,000 grant for overlaying a previously unpaved parking area closest to the fishing pier.  The total project cost was $499,438.  Carl Switzer, Parks Superintendent, and project manager said, “This project may not have happened without this wonderful collaboration and this investment will considerably enhance the public’s recreational boating and fishing opportunities in Washington County.”

And the improvements are dramatic.  Crosswalks, travel direction arrows and other stenciling were also completed to clearly designate parking areas.    Marty Granum, Facilities and Parks Services Manager for Washington County Parks said, “The Marine Board hit a grand slam with this project.  It’s a great example of perfect planning to improve traffic flow.  We’re proud that we’ve done something to improve things for the next generation.”  Trailered parking spaces are longer.  Curbing helps improve parking safety for vehicles given the downward slope to the water.  There’s plenty of space for larger boats and trailers to maneuver.  With the gentle slope of both boat ramps, Hagg Lake is not only a perfect place to fish but a perfect place for people who are new to wake sports to come and play.

Scoggins Valley Park is open year-round, from sunrise to sunset.  The park features numerous recreation areas to picnic, fish, hike, bike, and boat.  Parking fees are $7 for the full day and go to Washington County to operate and maintain the facilities around the lake. The Marine Board does not receive any parking fee revenue and Washington County does not receive any fee revenues that are charged by the county.

For more information about Henry Hagg Lake, visit

The Marine Board is directly funded by boaters in the form of registration, title, and permit fees, as well as through marine fuel taxes. No lottery, general fund tax dollars or local facility parking fees support the agency or its programs. Boater-paid fees support the boating public through boating safety services (on-the-water law enforcement, training, and equipment), boating safety education, grants for the construction and maintenance of boating access facilities, and environmental protection programs. For more information about the Marine Board and its programs, visit

Rules of the Road -Series V

Conduct of Vessels in sight of one another and restricted visibility

In Series 3, the responsibility of vessels in all conditions of visibility was addressed. These rules are the foundation for everything to come when we start looking at how to specifically avoid a collision. When we started this blog series, I’ve continued to stress the importance of always thinking about the rules of the road and situations with respect to whether you have vessels in sight and not in sight, better known as restricted visibility.  If you separate the two, you will eliminate confusion.  Again, as with any rule or regulation, always look at the application.  The applicability rule for this section, Rule 11, simply states that Rules 12 thru 18 apply when vessels are in sight of one another. Note: Rule 19 is separate subpart.

So before we jump right into the rules in this section, it would be appropriate to go right to Rule 18, “Responsibility between Vessels.”  This rule identifies the hierarchy between different types of vessels engaged in different operations or work.  In my previous blogs, I explained how larger vessels are less maneuverable and take great distances to stop.  These physical factors affect their maneuverability.   In addition, there are vessels that strictly by the nature of their work or by some extenuating or extraordinary circumstance, are limited or unable to maneuver.  In order to account for these vast differences, the Rule of Responsibility was developed.

Taking all things into account, this hierarchy gives precedence or priority of right of way.  The list moves upward from small and maneuverable to large and un-maneuverable.  So, with the exception of Rules 9, 10 and 12, the following list establishes that hierarchy in ascending order.  A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a vessel under sail, a vessel engaged in fishing, and the two classes of vessels with the highest priority, those not under command and restricted in their ability to maneuver.  Each class of vessel on the list must yield to those on the list ahead of it.  More detailed definitions of these vessels can be found in Rule 3. Always having this hierarchy in mind will help in the decision process when we look at the actions of the give-way vessel, stand-on vessel and the responsibility between vessels when meeting, overtaking and crossing.  Bottom line, as far as recreational vessels are concerned, the hierarchy is easy.  A recreational vessel, under all but the rarest of circumstances, will never be anything more than a power-driven vessel.  Confused?  Keep reading…

There are also situations where vessels listed higher in the hierarchy can change status to just a power-driven vessel.  For example, a sailing vessel operating on mechanical propulsion or mechanical propulsion and under sail at the same time is a power-driven vessel.  Only when the machinery is shut off and the vessel is only under sail does it step up in the hierarchy.  Now, an issue rising from that rule is what do you do when you have two sailing vessels under sail approaching each other?  In this case, a specific rule was written for that situation.  Rule 12 addresses the conduct of two sailing vessels under sail when they are approaching when the risk of collision exists.  Fishing vessels, by definition in Rule 3, only fall under higher hierarchy when they are actually engaged in the act of fishing. The same can be said for a vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver.  Once the operation or activity/job is discontinued they are considered a power-driven vessel.

Although there may be some exceptions, the majority of recreational vessels will never fall under the higher levels of the hierarchy so that makes application of the rules by recreational vessels pretty simple.  If it’s anything other than another power-driven vessel, you can pretty much bet that they have the right of way and your responsibility is to let it pass safely. The number of sound signals you will have to use and navigation lights you will need to understand are minimal, especially if you are following Rules 5, 6, 7 and 8.  Now before we jump into Rules 13, 14 and 15, we need to jump ahead once again to Rule 16 and 17, “Action By Give-way Vessel and Action by Stand on Vessel.”  Action by Give-way Vessel (Rule 16).

Image of a Chesapeake Bay collision between a power boat and sail boat in August 2018.

Chesapeake Bay collision in August 2018. Full story:

Every vessel which is directed to keep out of the way of another vessel shall, so far as possible, take early and substantial action to keep well clear.  This relates back to Rules 7 and 8, “Risk of Collision” and “Actions to Avoid Collision.”  The common theme is to take “early and substantial action”. If you react in plenty of time, you can avoid collision simply by altering course as directed by the rules or slowing down.  It’s all pretty basic.  If you’re the stand-on vessel (Rule 17). (a)(i) Where one of two vessels is to keep out of the way, the other shall keep her course and speed.

So, if it is safe and you can maintain your course and speed you shall do so until the other vessel is clear.  But, if the stand-on vessel is not following Rule 16, the give way vessel has the responsibility to take necessary action to avoid collision in accordance with rules to (ii) the latter vessel may, however, take action to avoid collision by her maneuver alone, as soon as it becomes apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these Rules, (c) A power-driven vessel which takes action in a crossing situation in accordance with paragraph (a)(ii) of this Rule to avoid collision with another power-driven vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, not alter course to port for a vessel on her own port side (passing port to port).

For example, say you have a boat approaching you and its bearing and range are constant.  For some reason, you’re distracted and lose track of the other boat and then notice you’re about to collide.  Regardless that the other boat is required to maneuver under the rules, you are still required, if they fail to take action, to take whatever action necessary to best avoid the collision, (b) When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision.  If a collision is inevitable and you have time to react, maneuvering to reduce the damage of impact may be your only course of action.  A glancing blow is much better than a “T” bone but always referring back to Rules 5, 7 and 8, if you maintain a proper lookout and identify the risk of collision early, when you realize the other vessel is not going to give way taking action to avoid the collision will keep you from ever getting into this sort of circumstance, (d) This Rule does not relieve the give-way vessel of her obligation to keep out of the way.

When meeting another vessel there are three basic scenarios that the rules address, overtaking, crossing and head-on, where the stand-on and give-way vessel rules in Rules 16 and 17 apply.  If you sit back and look at it, all three are similar to driving a car when meeting another car on a narrow street, intersection or passing.  In the inland rules, there should be an agreement between both vessels involved in order to establish which direction the give-way vessel will maneuver.  This can be established by communicating via marine VHF FM radio or sound signals with the vessel’s whistle.

Powerboat rules of the road infographic from BoatUS Foundation.

Powerboat rules of the road infographic from BoatUS Foundation.

“Overtaking,” Rule 13, is when you are passing another vessel. (a) Notwithstanding anything contained in Rules 4 through 18, any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken. If you are passing another vessel you are considered the “give-way” vessel.   When overtaking another vessel, pass them on their starboard side. Going to the port may put you in the path of other vessel traffic traveling in the opposite direction.  There are some circumstances where you can pass on the port side, but that is only if it is unsafe to pass on the starboard side, due to some obstruction or hazard.  Passing another vessel on the port side should be taken using extreme caution.  Sound signals should be exchanged between you and the “stand-on” vessel prior to passing (being discussed in the next blog series).

So let’s say you are not exactly approaching another vessel from dead astern but off to the side?  (b) A vessel shall be deemed to be overtaking when approaching another vessel from a direction more than 22.5 degrees abaft her beam; that is, in such a position with reference to the vessel she is overtaking, that at night she would be able to see only the stern light of that vessel but neither of her sidelights.   All this nautical lingo can make your head spin but if you look at your boat as the needle on a compass you have 360 degrees of radius around the vessel. Zero degrees is always dead ahead, 90 degrees directly to your right, 180 degrees astern, 270 on the left side and returning to dead ahead, zero or 360.  When this rule says 22.5 degrees abaft the beam means 22.5 degrees past 90 or 112.5 degrees from dead ahead. This means that when you approach another vessel and you are aft of that 112.5-degree point in reference from the other vessel, to their direction of travel, you are overtaking.

Figure 1, Relative Bearing

One thing you will notice is that with all these rules they are written to err on the side of safety.  If there is any doubt as to whether you are overtaking another vessel you must assume you are and act accordingly.  Once you have traveled beyond the point that is 22.5 degrees abaft the beam of the other vessel or there is any alteration of bearing between vessels it does not relieve you of your responsibility as the give way vessel.  You must keep clear of the overtaken vessel until you are safely past and clear. (d) Any subsequent alteration of the bearing between the two vessels shall not make the overtaking vessel a crossing vessel within the meaning of these Rules or relieve her of the duty of keeping clear of the overtaken vessel until she is finally past and clear. In figure 2, where there is yellow, indicates the zone where an approaching vessel would be considered overtaking.  Again, once you pass the other vessel you are still obligated to remain at a safe distance and course until you are safely well clear, forward if the vessel being overtaken. The important thing to remember is that even if the vessel looks to be heading away from you as long as you have a constant bearing and decreasing range you’re at risk of collision.

Before we get into the details of Rule 18, responsibilities between vessels, there is an overarching point I want to drive home again. “When determining the conduct of vessel in sight of one another the rules are set up so the burden is on the more maneuverable vessel to give way to the less maneuverable vessel”.  “It is reasonable that the more maneuverable vessel gives way to the less maneuverable vessel but, ultimately each vessel has the responsibility to avoid collision regardless of its status”.  It is also very important that there is a universal understanding of what defines each class of vessel in the hierarchy.  Always reference Rule 3, definitions, on how to accurately apply hierarchy.  Rule 18 (Inland) is as follows:

Except where Rules 9, 10, and 13 (§§83.09, 83.10, and 83.13) otherwise require:

  • A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of:

(i) A vessel not under command;

(ii) A vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver;

(iii) A vessel engaged in fishing;

(iv) A sailing vessel.

(b) A sailing vessel underway shall keep out of the way of:

(i) A vessel not under command;
(ii) A vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver; and
(iii) A vessel engaged in fishing.

(c) A vessel engaged in fishing when underway shall, so far as possible, keep out of the way of:

(i) A vessel not under command; and,
(ii) A vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver

The take away for recreational boaters from Rule 18 is that unless you are under sail, you will never be more than a power-driven vessel.

The same rules apply for head-on and crossing situations. Rule 14 (a) Unless otherwise agreed, when two power-driven vessels are meeting on reciprocal or nearly reciprocal courses so as to involve risk of collision each shall alter her course to starboard so that each shall pass on the port side of the other. One stark difference between overtaking and meeting situations is that because you and the other vessel are moving forward the rate of closure between both vessels significantly increases. This is why it is very important to establish when a risk of collision exists very early: (b) Such a situation shall be deemed to exist when a vessel sees the other ahead or nearly ahead and by night she could see the masthead lights of the other in a line or nearly in a line and/or both sidelights and by day she observes the corresponding aspect of the other vessel. The key to this is standing a proper and vigilant lookout for other vessels and acting in ample time to safely pass.  As a rule of thumb, the yellow area or zone in Figure 2 is a good reference when a vessel should be deemed to be approaching head-on.  The only difference between a head-on and a crossing situation is that both vessels are burdened and required to turn to starboard. This maneuver opens the distance between both vessels to allow safe passage.  As always, if there is any doubt you should assume the risk of collision exists and take appropriate action.

Figure 2, Head On or Meeting

Rule 15, Crossing; (a) When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her starboard side shall keep out of the way and shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel.   You may have noticed the common theme in all of these situations – constant bearing and decreasing range rules.  If there is another vessel off your starboard side and in the zone indicated in yellow in figure 3, you’re in a crossing situation. I can’t emphasize enough that if you can recognize that the risk of collision exists early enough, a simple maneuver to starboard, slowing down or even coming to a complete stop immediately fixes the situation. When you observe the other vessel’s bearing moving to the left, risk of collision no longer exists and you’ve done your job! Never wait until the last minute and always pass astern of the other vessel.

Figure 3, Crossing

The last hurdle to jump in this section of the rules is Rule 19, “Conduct of vessels in restricted visibility.”  When we think of restricted visibility fog normally is the first thing that comes to mind.  You also can have restricted visibility during periods of heavy rain, snow, and glare from the sun or even smoke. When restricted visibility exists vessels are considered to be not in sight of one another.  As far as this section of the rules applies the rules are simple, (a) This Rule applies to vessels not in sight of one another when navigating in or near an area of restricted visibility. (b) Every vessel shall proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility. A power-driven vessel shall have her engines ready for immediate maneuver.  (c) Every vessel shall have due regard to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility when complying with Rules 4 through 10 (§83.04 through §83.10).  Rule 4 through 10 were covered in the previous articles in this series but in short, they cover safe speed, proper lookout, risk of collision, actions to avoid a collision, narrowed channels and traffic separation schemes.

When dealing with restricted visibility the key is to make yourself as visible as possible and give yourself enough time to be able to react to the developing situation. This means energizing your navigation lights, sounding the signal for a power-driven vessel underway on your horn (one prolonged blast every two minutes) and adding extra lookouts for an extra set of eyes. The most important action to take when navigating in restricted visibility is to slow your speed so that you have ample time to stop within the limits of your visibility and to navigate with extreme caution.

Common sense and respect for others go a long way when applying these rules. If you are uncertain always act as if the risk of collision exists. Keep a sharp lookout and strive to pass others at a safe distance to avoid close quarter situations. If at all possible avoid making course alterations to port and if things just don’t feel like they are going well, slow down or stop until you can regain your situational awareness. Never assume what the other mariner will do, instead of reacting to events as they present themselves. Although this may seem complicated it is very simple. When everyone follows the overarching rules boating becomes more enjoyable and most importantly, safe.

US Coast Guard District 13 LogoBy: Dan Shipman,
Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
13th Coast Guard District


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