April’s early summery weather attracted many who flocked to area waterways over the weekend.
But the early jump on summer recreational activities has also prompted safety concerns from first responders and the Oregon Marine Board.
In the following conversation, The Pilot speaks with board representative, Ashley Massey, about how to best protect yourself, family and your friends as you head to the local waterways to enjoy the natural beauty of our state.
The Pilot: What do you find is the mentality when such a first hot sunny weekend arrives and folks head to the waterways that could lead to injury or even death?
Ashley Massey: The impulse to “get out there” after bouts of cabin fever. It’s a natural impulse, but recognize it for what it is. Then pause and take the time to plan ahead. Decide ahead of time where you want to put in/take out and learn if there are any reported waterway obstructions like snags, fallen trees, and strainers.
Use the Marine Board’s interactive boating access map to find boat ramp locations and learn local rules for boat operation. Have a “plan B” for access and set a location based on your skill level. If you’re a brand-new boater learning how to launch, you’ll want to practice in an uncongested area. Likewise, for paddlers, go somewhere that’s calm and protected from rapidly changing weather conditions until your skills build and you’re ready to venture out to other areas.
Do not set out too close to dusk because once the sun starts to set, it gets cold quickly and disorientation happens just as fast. Check the weather and the tides for tidally influenced rivers and bays.
The Pilot: What is the most critical point the Oregon Marine Board wants folks to understand as they head to local waterways in the state?
Massey: Wear a life jacket. Dress for the water temperature and not the air temperature. It takes the worry out of anything unexpected, but expect to get wet. Life jackets are the most important piece of equipment and significantly improve your chances of survival. In 2020, there were 27 recreational boating fatalities and 17 victims were not wearing life jackets. Also make sure to comply with other equipment requirements based on the boat type and boat length.
The Pilot: We understand even though outside temperatures will be in the 80s this weekend, water temps will still be dangerously cold. What is the danger?
Massey: If a person experiences sudden exposure to cold water, the reaction is the same for everyone. The body will have a gasp reflex, and if a person’s head isn’t above the water or quickly resurfaces, the chances of swallowing water into the lungs is very high. This leads to drowning. Most fatalities are not from hypothermia, they’re from drowning relating to the initial cold water shock.
For people wanting to hit local area rivers in float toys, recognize they are designed for pools, not dynamic waters with strong current and obstructions. Keep a vigilant lookout downstream and take early action to maneuver away from obstructions. Another consideration along with the temperature difference with air and water, is environmental exposure.
The sun, wind, glare, and other factors contribute to fatigue and dehydration, which slow reaction time and judgment. Be sure to drink water and take frequent breaks to keep your senses sharp.
The Pilot: What steps should parents take to keep their children safe on the waterways?
Massey: Have their children wear a properly fitting life jacket and model the behavior themselves. Children 12 and younger are required to wear a properly fitted life jacket in a boat that’s is underway, however, the Marine Board and other boating safety partners advocate wearing a life jacket whenever in or around the water.
Steep drop offs and unstable lake and river banks can be extremely dangerous. Children are also naturally attracted to water and keeping a sharp eye on them at all times is very difficult. Having children wear life jackets helps remove some of the worry.
The Pilot: What are you seeing is the range of boating violations and the fines/penalties boaters could face this weekend and into the summer season and how much would that hit their pocketbooks?
Massey: Marine officers will be looking for regulation compliance and other violations, such as distracted, unsafe or reckless operation, improper lookout, overloading, riding on bows, decks, gunwales or transoms of motorboats, and proximity rules for slow no-wake.
Motorized boaters need to have a current motorboat registration and if operating a boat over 10 horsepower, carry a boating safety education card. Paddlers with craft 10 feet or longer need to purchase and be ready to display a Waterway Access Permit.
Fines range from $115-$265 for equipment violations, $265-$440 for speed/moving violations, and into the thousands of dollars for more serious offenses such as BUII or reckless operation. Conviction may also lead to jail time, revocation of boating privileges and imposed boating safety education on top of boating safety education card suspension.
Also, remember to share the water. As the weather warms and the waterways become crowded, be patient and courteous, be aware of your surroundings, and recognize the impact your boat and activity have on those around you. Safety is everyone’s responsibility.
For more information. contact the Oregon Marine Board at 503-378-8587. The office is located at 435 Commercial Street N.E. in Salem.