POLK COUNTY — With the Willamette River offering easy access to Polk County residents, enjoying activities in or on the water is a popular thing to do during the summer months.
Before you pump up your stand-up paddleboard or ease your boat out of its parking space, make sure that you are educated on the rules and precautions that the Oregon State Marine Board recommends you follow to ensure you’re staying safe while having fun on the water.
The No. 1 rule to remember, said OSMB’s public information officer Ashley Massey, is to wear a life jacket — no matter which activity it is you’re engaging in.
Strong currents and cold temperatures can disorient even the strongest swimmer if they were to fall overboard.
“The waterways are very cold, and the currents are strong. If a person falls in unexpectedly, there’s a high chance that they experience “cold water shock,” and can easily experience the gasp reflex, taking in water into their lungs which can lead to drowning,” said Massey.
It is particularly dangerous when the air temperature is warm/hot, Massey said. “Cold water is defined as 65 degrees or below, which most of our waterways fall into most of the year.”
She said if a person goes overboard, remember the 1-10-1 rule: One minute to get your breathing under control, 10 minutes before you lose muscle coordination, and one hour before hypothermia sets in.
There is one main difference between choosing to jump into the water and unexpectedly doing so: The mental preparation component.
“When someone plans on swimming, from the shore or from their boat, they make a conscious decision to do so,” Massey said. “The body is more ‘prepared,’ and the cold water impacts aren’t as severe at first.”
The law requires a boat, paddle board, kayak and any other water recreational vehicle to carry a life jacket for the number of people on board.
According to OSMB’s website, 85 to 90 percent or more of fatalities could be prevented if the victims wore life jackets.
“Another good pointer is for people to not overestimate their skill level — operating a boat (paddle or motor) or swimming,” Massey said. “Having a base education is the first best step, and then finding locations that help develop the person’s boat handling skills.”
OSMB offers several free online courses for boating, paddling and swimming safety.
Massey said that the rescue calls Marine Patrols, search/fire and rescue receive are often folks who have fallen overboard and are unable to self-rescue. Other incidents include collisions with fixed or submerged objects, largely due to operator inattention or inexperience operating their boat.
“We ask all boaters to be “good neighbors” and help out other people in distress,” Massey said. “Each year, many wonderful citizens step up and help those in need, averting serious tragedy.”
Another issue that increases danger on the water is boating under the influence of intoxicants, or BUII.
In Oregon, a boater is considered legally “under the influence” if the boater’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher.
Marine officers can still arrest boaters for observed impairment below 0.08 percent. Other substances that impair operation can also lead to a BUII arrest — including marijuana.
Beyond wearing a life jacket, being aware of your personal skill level and taking care not to operate motorized or non-motorized vehicles under the influence of intoxicants, the OSMB recommends people become familiar with boating laws and what kind of permits are needed depending on which type of water vehicle you are operating.
Waterway access permits, which replaced the Aquatic Invasive Species Permit on Jan. 1, is required to be carried on boats and non-motorized vehicles 10’ or longer. There are a few different options of purchase for these permits, including a week-long permit for $5, a year-long permit for $17 and two calendar years for $30. Enforcement for compliance with the permit requirement begins Aug. 1.
For information on water safety regulations, laws and other information, visit www.oregon.gov/osmb.