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

Inclement Weather Boating Tips

 By Keith McCafferty, US Coast Guard Boating Safety, Shared via OSMB.

“It was like looking down into the eye of a hurricane, except I was looking up.”

That’s the way Mark Hawkinson recalls the March day three years ago when he, a friend, three children, and Capt. Allen Sifford, the guide they had hired to go redfishing, nearly perished in the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway south of Corpus Christi, Texas. The forecast had been for overcast skies and scattered showers. There was no word of the near-100-mile-per-hour winds that would tear the watch off Hawkinson’s wrist. After the guide had dropped him off on a sandbar to wade-fish, the sky became a mass of “pukey, pearly” clouds. The temperature fell 20 degrees in minutes, and as the rain lashed him like bullets, the guide came roaring up in his 21-foot V-hull and yelled at him to get the hell in the boat.

For the next two hours the men and boys held tight as the boat fought the waves. Sifford recalls that it was like being hit by car-wash spray. Visibility was just inches. Shouts were drowned in the storm. It was so difficult to keep from being washed overboard that no one thought to put on life preservers, which were stored within reach. Motoring back to shore, with the seething waves running against the side of the boat, was not an option. The only hope was to try to steer a course toward a shallow bar where a rickety wooden fishing shack stood on pilings driven into the sand. Sifford had marked a nearby buoy on his GPS, which was miraculously able to obtain satellite positioning through the dense cloud cover.

The captain shouted out his location into the boat radio, hoping his Mayday calls would reach the Coast Guard. But he had laid his antenna down as a precaution against lightning, and the signals didn’t get through. The boat bilge was filling with water as he steered toward the position marked on the GPS. When he drew as close to the buoy as he dared, he threw the anchor, and the men and boys jumped overboard. Within minutes the boat had sunk onto the bar, stringers of redfish and coolers floating over its gunwales. Clinging to each other, with the smallest of the children on Hawkinson’s shoulders, the crew slogged through the hip-deep water.

The platform was invisible until they were right next to it. Climbing up, they took refuge for seven hours while the structure swayed and the pilings groaned.

At 10 P.M. a Coast Guard helicopter, following a 2-mile-long debris trail, spotted the silver flash of the motor on Sifford’s capsized boat. A frogman jumped into the sea. “I’m looking for three guys and three kids,” he said. “You’ve found them” was the answer, and one by one the shipwrecked crew of red-fishermen were lifted in a basket from the water.

Unless you want to fault a higher power for the weather, you just have to shrug. Certainly Hawkinson and his group should have donned life jackets, but other than that their actions were exemplary. The Coast Guard commended Capt. Sifford for his foresight in identifying the only sanctuary they had a chance of reaching, and for repeatedly attempting radio contact. As bad as their day was, Sifford can now joke that it was worse for the clients of another guide, who took refuge in portable toilets on an island before the wind blew the johns over.

One-third of all U.S. boating fatalities involve hunters and fishermen. Bucking the trend begins with boat and motor maintenance, and upkeep of survival and navigational equipment, including radios, GPS, charts, PFDs, flares, flashlights, rain gear, whistles, distress flags, and water and food stores.

(1) Prepare for contingencies by filing a float plan, then stick to it.

(2) Tune your radio to the National Weather Service (get details at to listen for small-craft warnings, and heed them.

(3) If you capsize or fall overboard, stick with the boat. Swimming exposes more surfaces of the body to cold water, hastening the onset of hypothermia. It’s also much easier for rescuers to spot a boat than a head bobbing in choppy water. If you can’t re-board the boat or crawl on top of the floating hull, assume the Heat Escape Lessening Position (HELP) with knees drawn to chest, ankles crossed, and forearms crossed over chest to insulate the body’s core.

(4) Wear a life jacket. As a group, sportsmen are the most reluctant to wear them. Coast Guard Cmdr. Kim Pickens of Portsmouth, Virginia, recommends the new user-friendly life jackets, including inflatable suspenders and belts that layer comfortably over clothing, and more traditional Type III jackets that permit free movement of the upper torso and arms for fishing or shouldering a shotgun.

A GPS and PFD. Mark Hawkinson would not be here to tell his story if Capt. Sifford hadn’t had a GPS unit on board.

* * * * *

The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency’s Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to “Boat Responsibly!” For more tips on boating safety, visit

Port of Alsea Warns Boaters of Heavy Silting at Boat Ramp

Silting at the boat ramp on Alsea Bay during a negative tide.

Silting at the boat ramp on Alsea Bay during a negative tide.

Heavy silting is impeding safe launching from the ramp into Alsea Bay.  The picture says it all.   Several boaters have been stuck on sand bars and have had to wait for the tide to come in.  The Port of Alsea have put notices up on their website and the kiosk at the boat ramp.  The Port urges people to avoid launching on any negative tides and to always use caution when launching.  Boaters need to be extra mindful and closely monitor the tides.

Dredging in the bay is scheduled for November 1, 2016.

2016 Tide Information for Alsea Bay

NOAA Tide Tables

Boarding floats (docks) at the Port of Alsea on a negative tide.

Boarding floats (docks) at the Port of Alsea on a negative tide.


Alcohol and Boating: A Case Study on Impairment

Foundation Findings, BoatUS Foundation

buii, drinking boater, impairment, boating under the influence of intoxicants, boating safety

While there isn’t an open container law in Oregon, marine law enforcement look for impairment. Impairment can occur with any amount of alcohol or drugs and is amplified with natural stressors like wind, current, sun, noise, motion and vibration.

On a delightful Chesapeake Indian Summer day last year, a 44-year old male, a boater all his life, decided to try out a Parker 18 on the Rhode River. After a quick spin around a nearby cove and safely back at the dock, he thought it was time for a shot of vodka. It was 10:30AM. After about 15 minutes talking boats with his friends with his friends, this very experienced boater took another quick trip in the Parker. The boat, powered by a 90-hp Honda, performed perfectly as he maneuvered around the same cove again, this time at higher speed. The operator was “getting a better feel for the boat,” he said.

And although by then, as he later admitted, he was “getting a buzz on,” he brought the boat back to the dock – deliberately and almost overcautiously – without incident, despite the alcohol.

That called for another drink and when he took the Parker out a third time, he “was really starting to feel the booze,” as he confessed afterward.

“I was pretty confident that I could handle it but I had to concentrate hard on what I was doing,” he confided to friends several days afterward. “If there were any other boats around, I didn’t notice them and I never realized I’d hit that buoy. But I didn’t do any real damage anyway.”

Witnesses later said that when this man pulled the Parker into a slip on the cove, the port quarter hit the dock hard. The operator, now rather flustered, backed down and tried again. Once inside the slip the second time, he attempted to reverse the engine to stop but got confused. He revved the engine in forward instead and ran the bow up on the dock. Fortunately, there was no damage from this incident either.

Despite his obvious impairment level, this boater wouldn’t quit. Ashore with his friends again and laughing sheepishly about the docking experience, he knocked back another vodka. By then, as tests would later show, this man’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) stood at .11%, well over Maryland’s .08% for legal intoxication.Clearly, this boater was “operating under the influence.” Or as Officer David Scheler of the Maryland Natural Resources Police put it – using terms any jury would have understood – “This guy was smashed.”

On any other day, Officer Scheler would have taken the boater ashore, probably in handcuffs, for an accurate BAC test that would be admissible in a court of law. And this otherwise responsible boater would have drunk his way to criminal prosecution and a stiff fine. But this wasn’t just any day and a boater who most people would have agreed had no business being on the water, did. That’s because he was one of four BoatUS staff members who volunteered to test the influence of alcohol on their boat-handling abilities for this special “Foundation Findings.”

Water Is a Poor Chaser

As more states adopt strict operating-under-the-influence (OUI) laws that mirror stepped-up alcohol enforcement on the roads, boaters are coming under increasing scrutiny. Venturing out on the water after drinking, even after moderate social drinking, can be very hazardous.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol is a major factor in as much as 50% of all recreational boating fatalities.

The Coast Guard says a boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration above .10% – the legal threshold in 38 states – is 10 times more likely to be killed in a boating accident than a boater with zero BAC.A vessel operator backs the boat under the supervision of a law enforcement officer.

No matter what the activity, alcohol affects balance, vision, coordination and judgement. But in boating, stressors like wind, sun noise, motion, and vibration can magnify the effects of alcohol and even accelerate impairment.

Numerous studies have measured the effects of alcohol on motorists but comparatively little scientific study has gone into boating and alcohol. While it is possible to extrapolate data from motor vehicle research, we wanted to find out, firsthand, how alcohol would affect experienced boaters. And we also wanted to see what we could learn, at least anecdotally, from our test subjects’ own recollections of their performance stacked against data collected by on-scene observers.

The Float Plan

A few things to note in this image: drinking while operating a boat and a child not wearing a life jacket. It is against Oregon boating law for an operator to be impaired and for children under 13 to not be wearing a properly fitting, US Coast Guard approved life jacket.

A few things to note in this image: drinking while operating a boat and a child not wearing a life jacket. It is against Oregon boating law for an operator to be impaired and for children under 13 to not be wearing a properly fitting, US Coast Guard approved life jacket.

In this “Foundation Findings” test we designed on-water and shoreside components in cooperation with the Maryland Natural Resources Police (MNRP). The boat selected was a Parker 18 described at the beginning of this report, actually a confiscated vessel used by the marine police for undercover surveillance operations.

For the on-water segment, we put the subjects through three exercises, a slalom course at planing speed through six buoys, a steerage-speed run through six more buoys placed in a zigzag pattern, and a docking test.

For our “dock” we built a floating structure using sections of four-inch plastic pipe configured as a single-loaded slip. The dock, anchored adjacent to the test course, measured 10 feet wide by 20 feet long. A MNRP vessel patrolled outside the cove the entire time to prevent other boats from straying into the test area. For our test subjects we selected two men and two women.

Name Your Poison

We gave our test subjects a choice of vodka or rum, both 80 proof, straight or with water. A “drink” measured 1oz. To maintain a constant evaluation basis we adhered to a strict time schedule, waiting 15 minutes after each drink to get into the bloodstream.

Each test sequence started on shore with a breath meter reading to establish blood alcohol concentration, and three Field Sobriety Tests commonly used in law enforcement, all administered by the marine patrol officers. These consisted of walking a straight line nine paces and walking back, standing on one foot while counting to 30 and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test. In this test the subject is asked to focus on the movement of a pen or some other subject held just above eye level. Involuntary eye movements indicate some level of impairment and failure on any of these tests gives a law enforcement officer “probable cause” to detain the person.

Finally, each subject navigated the on-water course under the supervision of an officer who commanded the boat between the dock and control buoys marking the beginning and the end of the course. Test subjects took the helm at the first control buoy although the officer held an engine kill switch at all times. Afterward, the officer recorded operator performance (see graph), as well as observations on each subject’s behavior.

Operator Error

For safety reasons, as well as to record data, we assigned a “buddy” to each test subject. Their job was to ensure that the subject ran through the test sequences in the proper order and time allotted as well as to keep them out of harm’s way. All parties wore life jackets at all times.

After one drink, the BAC of our subjects, all of different body types, ranged form .02% to .05%. Three of the four failed the eye exercise in the field sobriety test, indicating that some people show signs of impairment well before legal intoxication. All subjects performed adequately on the water although two maintained slightly erratic control over boat speed. And the same two hit the dock.

With a second round of drinks under their life jackets – two subjects had to have doubles for the alcohol to keep up with their metabolism – BAC ranged from .05% to .10%. This time all four did poorly on the field sobriety tests yet each appeared more relaxed and confident in the on-water test.

Following the third round of drinks (a total of four to five ounces, depending on the subject), BAC ranged from .08% to .12% and the field sobriety test showed that each was clearly inebriated. Officer Scheler recorded that the subjects varied boat speed greatly this time, taking very wide turns and overcompensating on the helm. Again, two hit the dock and one hit a buoy.

Performance in all categories after the fourth round of drinks proved far worse. At this point, two subjects had to be removed. The two remaining, a male and a female, had both reached nearly .15% BAC by that time, nearly twice the legal threshold in 17 states. They got through the on-water course, but with great difficulty, proving only that some boaters can physically manage to take a boat out on the water, even at that level of intoxication. In reality, they would be a serious threat to other boaters, their passengers, and themselves.


In the cold light of a later day, the test subjects and their observer “buddies” gathered for a debriefing. Each observer noted that the level of mental concentration the subjects needed in order to compensate for the effects of alcohol increased markedly throughout the day.

Each subject also noted that he or she began to loose track of activities around them as BAC rose, at least until they neared intoxication. This was very obvious to the observers. Interestingly, two subjects recalled being aware that their peripheral vision suffered as BAC rose, too. At or beyond legal intoxication level, however, they were neither very aware nor concerned about activities around them.

Observers also noted that as the day went on, the subjects paid less attention to details like having their life jackets fastened properly or whether their assigned buddy was with them.

Each subject noted that even at moderate BAC levels, any unforeseen situations would have created problems for them in operating the boat. Any variable – obstacle in the water, approaching vessel, man overboard – that would have required a quick decision or spontaneous reaction could have had dire consequences.

Most subjects agreed that the lag time “before the alcohol hits you” can produce a false sense of security that could lull a boater into drinking too much in too short a period.

The Sober Truth

Most boaters think of collisions as the greatest threat when drinking on the water. Yet, according to BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety research, an estimated 75% of alcohol-related boating accidents and injuries do not involve collisions. In fact, falls on board or overboard, or missteps at the dock or getting into the dinghy, are a much greater threat when drinking afloat.

It is more important to note that the subjects in our test were boaters who do not drink when operating their own boats. Of course, they knew this was a test and that quite naturally prompted them to concentrate harder on activities than a boater who may assume it is okay to drink and operate a boat or one who doesn’t think twice about doing it.

In addition, this test was conducted under ideal, controlled conditions, conditions that the average boater will seldom encounter on the water.

With most of our “Foundations Findings” tests, we advise you to try the products yourself. However, when it comes to alcohol and boating, we ask you to take our word for it.

Special Thanks

This “Foundation Findings” could not have been conducted without the assistance of the Maryland Natural Resources Police. The on-site team headed by Sgt. Wayne Jones, Community Relations Coordinator, provided not only supervision and field sobriety testing, but a wealth of real-world information about the effects of alcohol.

Special thanks also go out to Cpl. Wayne Avery, Cpl. Steve Jones, Off. David Scheler, and Off. Brian Noon of the Southern Region Marine Patrol. Their experience, professionalism and good humor turned a long, demanding day into a very worthwhile learning experience for everyone involved.StoryEnd.png

On the water with the Linn County Marine Patrol

Linn County SO, marine patrol, marine board, OSMB, boating safety, Foster Reservoir, buii, life jackets, logs, obstructions, boater education card

Deputy Matt Wilcox of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol talks about boating safety on Foster Reservoir on Friday, April 29, 2016.

Albany Democrat-Herald (On the water with the Marine Patrol), Neil Zawicki.  See original article for video.

There were more floating logs than boaters on Foster Reservoir Friday afternoon. In fact, the log-to-boater ratio was around 30 to one; the result of the recent filling of the reservoir, which caused all the debris brought in during the low winter levels to float.

The logs lurk in every direction, creating submerged hazards for boaters, and adding to the early season mission of the Linn County Sheriff Marine Patrol. The low boat traffic is only because the season is not yet in full swing. When it is, there will be upwards of 300 boats out here.

Deputy Matt Wilcox patrols this liquid beat in a 19-foot jet boat, one of two vessels the Marine Patrol operates to patrol Foster and 14 other lakes and reservoirs and three rivers countywide. The patrol also runs a drift boat and a bad cat pontoon boat. Along with the enforcement, the patrol also assists in search and rescue missions and victim transport.

The aluminum North River boat runs a Chevrolet 350, which powers the impeller for the jet drive. At $43,000, it was paid for in partnership with the Oregon State Marine Board.

The state marine board contracts the patrol for 800 hours of patrol time each year. Where they patrol, however, is up to them.

“I have to decide where I’m going to do the best good,” said Wilcox, piloting his boat slowly through a quiet cove near Sunnyside boat ramp. Once he clears the channel at makes in to the main body of the lake, he opens it up, and the boat lifts out of the water, nearly flying at almost 50 MPH.

Wilcox said his main mission is to educate boaters on safety and correct operation of their watercraft; anyone with a boat powered above 10 HP needs a Boater’s Education card, and carry life vests and fire extinguishers on board. To promote boater safety, and as a public service, the Marine patrol has teamed up with the Bi-Mart stores in Lebanon, Albany and Sweet Home, to offer watercraft inspections in late May.

But Wilcox also remains on the lookout for any less-than-responsible behavior. There is no open container law for boaters, and so Wilcox encounters a fair amount of people boating under the influence. He averages six arrests for the misdemeanor offense each season, and while a cooler full of beer is a time-honored companion for fishermen as well as wake boarders, the combination of water, booze, and lack of compliance with safety rules, can add to his work day.

He told the story of one intoxicated boater who had run his boat onto a rock, swamping and sinking it, while not wearing his required life preserver. Luckily, he didn’t drown, but the story is a cautionary one for boaters who otherwise have a sense of security on such a placid lake.

“I had another guy who jumped off the dam when I approached him, just because he didn’t want to talk to me,” said Wilcox. “He was playing air guitar on the hood of his car, and he was on the dam, which he’s not supposed to do, and when I called out to him, he just stepped off the edge.”

Wilcox said he used a laser range finder to determine the guy had fallen more than 60 feet, landing flat on his back in the water.

“I was more shocked than anything else,” he said.

Wilcox also takes the quiet, un-crowded patrol hours to set buoys to mark under water hazards, such as the concrete structure that rests just 3 feet below the surface near a swimming beach. Cleary anyone with an exposed propeller drafting more than 3 feet would have an expensive and dangerous day on the lake without the warning buoys.

When it comes to patrolling for boaters, Wilcox takes a casual approach, and it’s clear a boater would have to do a lot to get his attention. Still, he says, some boaters will pull up anchor and speed off upon sighting him, which he says is amusing because, where are they going to go? And also, if they don’t want to talk to him, there’s probably a reason he should talk to them.

If they’re open and friendly, he tends to treat them the same way. Approaching a boat at anchor, with fishing lines in the water, Wilcox rolls his bow across their beam and hails them. A young man stands up and says hello. Wilcox talks to him like a fellow fisherman, and the two have a friendly conversation. Noticing the boat has no registration, Wilcox asks if the boat is new.

“Yep, first time out today,” says the young man. “Just bought it last weekend at the boat show in Portland!”

Wilcox wishes the fishermen a good afternoon and moves on. He didn’t bother with the registration because the men were open to talking and also because it was obvious the boat was new. And it really did have that “off the showroom floor” shine.

“That’s an instance where I’ll let them be,” he said. “Because it’s the beginning of the season, the boat’s new and there’s no reason the cite them.”

For his part, Wilcox had never driven a jet boat before his marine patrol assignment. After a 12-week course, he’s a qualified pilot, and he shows us how to execute an emergency turn, which is a high-speed maneuver design to stop the boat in very close quarters. He guns it to nearly 40 MPH and then wrenches the wheel, sending the boat in a 360-degree spin, creating a surge of wake that, to the uninitiated, threatens to swamp the craft. But it doesn’t.

Wilcox knows how far he can push his boat. He also executed an emergency stop, which is equally alarming, and describes how the boat is built below the waterline to essentially grab the water, making it more stable than most.

Motoring back to the ramp, we notice a gigantic Golden Eagle gliding to a perch in a large tree. Wilcox said wildlife viewing is a major part of the experience, and it reminds him of another regulation, which he finds amusing.

“It’s actually illegal to chase wildlife on a jet ski,” he said. “But only on a jet ski.”

5 Quick Boating Safety Tips to Kick Start Your Season

PWC Rescue Training, July 22, 2015, on the Willamette River. Training hosted by the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, in partnership with OSMB.

1.  Make sure you have a properly fitting, US Coast Guard -approved life jacket for everyone on board.  All children 12 and younger must wear a life jacket with the boat is in motion.

2.  Start out slow and scout the area from the water and from land.  This time spent will pay dividends in fun!

3.  Reduce speed when approaching and moving away from docks or other floating structures.  Remember, Oregon’s “proximity rules” state: “Operators of boats must observe slow -no wake within 200′ of a boat ramp, marina or moorage, a floating home moorage or structures, or people working at water level. The operator may be liable for damage caused by wake.”  Slow -No Wake is defined as “operating a boat at the slowest speed necessary to maintain steerage and that reduces or eliminates waves that appear as white water behind the boat.”

4.  When purchasing a new or used boat, ask if it comes with an ignition cut-off switch and lanyard.  This device will kill the engine if the operator is thrown from the seat.

5.  Make sure you have a marine B-1 fire extinguisher, a sound producing device, and your lighting works.  All boats are required to carry specific equipment based on the boat size.

For more information on rules, regulations and required equipment, visit


Spring Aboard! Take a Boating Education Course

Spring aboard campaign encouraging boaters to take a boating safety course.The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) encourages boaters to Spring Aboard by enrolling in a boating education course during the week of April 17-23, 2016.  Working in partnership with the states, many course providers will offer incentives or course discounts for students who enroll in or complete a course during the Spring Aboard campaign.

If you’re a boater and want to take a class, the Marine Board has three, approved Internet course providers and a long list of partners who offer classroom courses around the state.

Peruse the classroom, or our online course options.

Be ready for the boating season and consider refreshing your skills!  Education is the first step in accident prevention.

City of Jefferson Seeking Comments on Boat Ramp Use

City of Jefferson's boat ramp on the North Santiam River.

City of Jefferson’s boat ramp on the North Santiam River.

The City of Jefferson is holding a public meeting on April 14, to gather information from boat ramp users.  The City is trying to determine the volume of boat use and will use this information to help  decide how to better manage the facility or  whether the boat ramp should be closed.

See the detailed flyer for more information:

Announcement about the upcoming public meeting.


McKenzie River Obstruction Near MP 45 -Complete Blockage

Large fir tree obstructing the McKenzie River near MP 45.

Large fir tree obstructing the McKenzie River near MP 45. Photo courtesy of Eric Messner.

The Marine Board was alerted about a dangerous obstruction near MP 45 on the McKenzie River, on the Rainbow to Blue River run, on March 22.   An old fir tree blocks the river from bank-to-bank, with branches in tact.  Boaters will need to paddle/power strong to the left where there is a small eddy and portage, but it is not advised for inexperienced boaters.  Currents will easily pull boaters directly into the tree.

Signs have been posted upstream and downstream.  Boaters are encouraged to avoid this stretch.  A contractor has been contacted to mitigate the obstruction immediately.

Looking downstream, the view as boaters approach the fallen fir tree.

Looking downstream, the view as boaters approach the fallen fir tree. Photo courtesy of Eric Messner.


Heavy Rains, High Water = Debris

Debris accumulation on Lost Creek Reservoir in 2015.

Debris accumulation on Lost Creek Reservoir in 2015.

It’s that time of year again, when heavy rains produce land slides and much of that debris finds its way to the water.

The Marine Board wants to remind boaters to go especially slow.  As tree limbs and other woody debris get water-logged, they will submerge just below the surface but can cause some serious prop or hull damage.

Keep a sharp lookout and be aware of your surroundings.  Conditions are changing at lightning speed, so be vigilant!  It’s also a good idea to hook on the engine cut off lanyard in case you happen to collide with debris or a fixed object that’s hard to see with fast moving, high water.

And of course, wear your float coat or life jacket.  The water is VERY chilly.