Boating for Beginners and Refresher for the Experienced

IMG_2586Maybe you grew up on boats and finally gave in to the itch and bought one.   Or you’ve been at water level in a paddlecraft a few times and decided it was time to see the water from a different perspective.  Maybe you want to try your hand at fishing or experience the thrill of watersports.   Whatever your motivation, rest assured that Oregon waterways will not disappoint!  There’s a boat -and a use, for everyone.

But where do you start?  The Marine Board suggests taking a few minutes to explore Discover Boating.  There you’ll find out about different boats, different sizes, and different price points.  You’ll also learn what type of boat is best for a particular type of waterway.  You can also visit one of your local boat dealers who are also Marine Board registration agents.  They can provide a wealth of information and give you a chance to take a boat for a spin.DreamBoatBanner

Does a more serene, out-of-the-way, back-to-nature experience float your boat?  Consider renting a stand up paddleboard, kayak or canoe to see if that’s more your speed.  Boating rental facilities (liveries) offer a wide variety of paddlecraft that you can try.  Paddling is a great way to stay fit and experience nature.  Learn the basics before picking up a boat at your local sporting goods store, though.  The Marine Board has an approved Internet paddlecraft course to get you started.  Canoes, kayaks, stand up paddleboards -they’re all boats, and are required to carry safety equipment and many retailers are unfamiliar with boating laws.IMG_2737

When you’re ready to take the plunge and get a boat, the first thing you need to do is take a boating safety course and learn the rules of the road, local regulations, and getting familiar on how to improve your boating skills.  The Marine Board has three approved Internet courses and classroom courses to choose from.  Once you take a boating safety course, you’ll then send the Marine Board an application with a copy of your completion certificate and a one-time $10 fee for your boater education card.  This card needs to be carried on board by the boat operator.

Not sure where to launch?  Choose your view and zoom in to find out where the boat ramps are, as well as learn the local rules by turning on and off data layers from the Marine Board’s interactive Boat Oregon Map.   The data layers give you the ability to filter data and help you find what you’re looking for.

Another thing to know is the location of shallow areas or where potential obstructions exist.  You can find out the latest information on the Marine Board’s obstruction page.  Be sure to do your homework before heading out.  But if you can’t resist the first dawn’s sunrays, be sure to take some time to scout the waterbody.  For lakes and reservoirs, head out slowly going counter-clockwise and look for submerged objects and shallow areas.  For beginners, we recommend avoiding rivers at first.  They are inherently more dangerous and going with an experienced guide or joining a paddling club are great ways to get exposure and build your paddling skills.

Other Tips:WearItBanner

Travel Responsibly

  • Some rivers are great for jet boats, but as you get further upland as a river becomes constricted, paddlecraft may be better to use.   Be sure to check local regulations to find out where motors are allowed, or where other motor restrictions may apply.
  • Always carry a properly fitting US Coast Guard -approved life jacket for everyone onboard.  Better yet, wear it!  Accidents happen too fast and putting one on in an emergency is nearly impossible.  Cold water and swift current make this task even more difficult.
  • Always operate at a safe speed.
  • Always have a designated lookout to keep an eye out for other boaters, objects and swimmers.
  • Never jump a wake.  If crossing a wake, cross at low speeds and keep a close lookout for skiers and towed devices.  Boat wakes travel distances, so slow down before you reach a slow -no wake zone, not as you pass the waterway marker.  When entering a slow -no wake zone, some boaters react by only slowing the boat slightly, and then plow through with the bow up and stern low -which actually increases a wake.  In Oregon, any whitewater behind a boat is defined as a wake.  The operator can have the boat moving at the slowest speed necessary to maintain steerage but slow enough to eliminate waves that appear as white water behind the boat.
  • When approaching a wake, slow down but don’t stop.  Motorboats are more stable when underway, so stopping could lead to swamping.  Avoid taking a wake on the beam (side) or head on.  The best approach is at a slight angle.
  • Be sure to comply with all waterway markers, signs or barriers.  This includes hazard areas, speed limits, no wake zones, and obstructions sometimes marked by buoy balls or even gallon milk jugs in some cases).
  • Always tell someone your travel plans and fill out a float plan and leave it with family and friends.  Do your best to boat with friends and family.  Boating alone can be dangerous.
  • Make sure the boat trailer is in proper working order, that the lights work, the tires are inflated and the ball bearings are lubricated.  Make sure the boat is secure on the trailer with tie-downs before you travel.
  • When trailering your boat, balance the load, including items stowed inside.
  • Don’t combine alcohol or drugs with boating.  It’s just a bad mix.  Impaired boaters will lose their boating privileges, pay a $6,250 fine, may be required to take a boating safety course (again), and the judge may impose other penalties.

    A waterskier enjoying flat water.

    A waterskier enjoying flat water.

Respect Everyone’s Rights to be On the Water

Respect the rights of others, including swimmers, skiers, anglers, divers and other boaters so they can enjoy their recreation, too.

Show consideration to everyone who’s out on the water.

  • Be courteous to other boaters while at the boat ramp and staging areas. Launch and retrieve your boat as quickly as possible.
  • Keep the noise down, especially around shore.  Sound carries across the water.
  • Always have the rules of the road in mind…who has the right of way, and who’s more maneuverable?

Be PreparedEducation Meme

Make a plan, and stick with the plan!

  • Take a few minutes to visit the Marine Board’s website to find out if there are any reported obstructions, local rules, or restrictions on the waterbody you plan to go boating.
  • Check the weather forecast and plan clothing, equipment, supplies, and extras based on where you’re going.
  • Check the water levels.
  • Make sure you have enough fuel and oil for the entire trip.
  • Make sure you have your Certificate of Number and Boater Education Card in a water-tight container.  For paddlecraft, make sure you have an aquatic invasive species prevention permit.
  • Always carry a Coast Guard approved working fire extinguisher and visual distress signals.
  • Prepare to get wet…always expect the unexpected and pack plenty of emergency items.
  • Know how to use your distress signals, fire extinguisher, or other emergency equipment.
  • Apply sunscreen, drink lots of water, and pay attention to your energy levels.  Sunny, warm days or even windy cold days take a toll on your body and stress the body more than you realize.

Avoid Sensitive Areas 

Be the best role model -and show others how to be a good steward of the environment!  Leave an area better than you found it by properly disposing garbage, fuel, oil and waste, and avoid spreading invasive species by removing all weeds and plant material from the boat, gear, motor and trailer before leaving a waterbody.

  • Pack out what you pack in.
  • When fueling your boat, take every precaution to not spill fuel into the water.  Sign up to be a “Clean Boater,” and get a free clean boater kit with supplies to help you clean up after any spill.
  • Use a floating restroom, land based restroom, or purchase a port-a-potty and discard human waste at a pumpout/dump station.
  • Before and after a trip, wash your gear, boat and trailer or support vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species.
  • Drain livewells, bilge water and transom wells at the boat ramp prior to leaving.  Remove the boat plug and keep it in a safe place for the next trip.  This will allow any standing water to drain and allow the area to dry.

Sources: Tread Lightly  and


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