During the the Oregon State Marine Board (OSMB) whitewater jet boat course, instructor and Curry County Deputy Walter Scherbarth was paired with Derek Randall, a marine deputy used to lakes. Randall had never boated on a river.
“Derek is a clear B-plus today,” Scherbarth said, “but we’ll see how he does through the next pass without my help.”
Throughout the day, Scherbarth changed Randall’s grade multiple times and gave ongoing criticism of his work.
“But, he’s doing great,” he said. “I cannot believe he has never piloted a boat in current before.”
Randall piloted the boat around an island where a boat had run aground earlier in the day and blasted through a narrow channel and into open space, earning kudos from Scherbarth –– before he nearly struck a submerged tree limb at the edge of a channel.
“Whoa, that was close,” Scherbarth said. “He didn’t hit it, but I sure thought we were going to hit it. C-minus.”
In another training move, Randall spun the boat around a rock in rapids while sliding close to shore before adjusting the throttle as he steered, digging the boat in and turning perfectly upriver through the rapid.
“That awesome, just awesome. I thought we were going on shore before that turn,” Scherbarth said.
According to OSMB law enforcement training coordinator Edward Persichetti, the course, held in Gold Beach from July 23–26 for law enforcement officers and rescuers, began with participants learning to tear down, service and reassemble jet pumps and continued with trainees learning to read the water and taking to the boats for skills including proper turns in current, backing down on rapids, chalking and Z-drags.
Persichetti said continued education and the promotion of safety for our boaters and marine law enforcement was the primary focus.
OSMB boating safety program director Randy Henry said the course was designed to prepare county marine deputies, the Oregon State Police and others for jet boat operations on whitewater for enforcement or rescue operations.
Many counties contract with OSMB for marine patrol services, according to Henry, and the OSMB pays for the boats and the training.
He said he hopes to expand in the future to include more fire departments, especially those working with county sheriffs on water rescues. But, he said OSMB funds are limited and paid for exclusively by boaters so the course focuses on boat rescues.
“We focus on actions and interventions to prevent injuries and accidents, but we are ready for rescues as well,” Henry said.
Deputy Nate Thompson said police presence usually makes people do the right thing, so they encourage boat and safety checks, “but if it goes bad, then we have the resources available for rescue.”
Tom Turk, a retired marine deputy, taught the mechanical portion of the class and took trainees through the process of disassembling, servicing and reassembling Kodiak and Hamilton jet pumps.
Turk said the key was to get people hands-on experience with these pumps. “They’re simple,” he said. “No rocket-science with these pumps.”
On the water, Persichetti paired trainees with experienced jet boat pilots for practice with an instructor on-board.
Instructor Nate Thompson emphasized throttle control on jet boats. They won’t turn going slow and they won’t turn at full speed, he said. But you have to get them up on plane to run in shallow water.
Scherbarth pointed out how Randall took throttle out as he went into a turn and then added throttle at the right point as well, complimenting him on leaving rpms at the top end so he could use the extra power when he needed it.
The Lincoln County boat ran aground earlier in the day giving the teams a chance to use the Z-Drag system to pull it back into the channel.
First attempts by Thompson to pull the boat with a line failed, so Joshua Tyler, a ropes expert from Clackamas Fire, tied webbing to a tree on shore before others attached it to the stranded boat and he helped them set up a 5-1 rope system with a change of direction. The 5-1 system – or Z-drag system – uses pulleys to multiply the force exerted by a rope on a target object.
The rope and pulley system were then attached to Thompson’s boat by OSMB’s Brian Paulsen and Thompson’s boat was then able to pull the stranded boat back into the channel.
Persichetti said this was the type of learning experience the OSMB was trying to create, a real-life situation where newly-trained techniques were needed and effective.