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Safety First -A Reminder for Boaters Operating in High Water
For Immediate Release -4/4/12
McKenzie River Navigation Hazard from 2008. 
You don’t need to go far to find pooling water and swollen rivers that look more like stirred hot chocolate than the beautiful waterways they are most of the year.  With the record-breaking rain and spring snow melt, large volumes of riverbank erosion, sediment, gravel and trees are creating significant navigation hazards for boaters.  River flow characteristics change considerably with high water.  The Marine Board wants to remind boaters –motorized and paddlers alike- to take the following precautions before venturing out:
  • Find out if the boat ramp is open.  Many boating facilities are closed due to high water.  Contact the waterway manager beforehand online or by phone.  Many bridges also have low clearance.  You can find local boating access sites and waterway manager contact information at http://www.boatoregon.com/OSMB/access/access.shtml#Where_to_Launch_in_Oregon.
  • Dress appropriately and make sure you’re wearing a properly fitting PFD (personal flotation device).  Choose wool or synthetic pile clothing and a wind/water resistant outer layer.  Be sure to insulate your head, hands and feet.  Most importantly, wear a PFD.  All of Oregon’s waterways are cold and there is a significant risk of injury due to cold water immersion and hypothermia if you suddenly find yourself in the water.  A PFD will help keep your head above the water and decreases the chances of taking water into the lungs from a cold water “gasp reflex.”  A PFD will also help keep you warmer and give you a much better chance for self-rescue. 
  • Almost every river from the valley to the coast in Oregon is running fast and high.  Paddlecraft operators should only consider boating in groups in case help is needed.  Better yet, go with an experienced guide or paddling club.  Never boat alone.  Use the “three boat” standard where there are white water conditions.  Scout ahead for downed trees, gravel bars, and other hazards and know how to read the river.  Download a copy of the “Paddling Oregon Safely” brochure to learn more about scouting, how to read the river and avoiding navigation hazards at http://www.boatoregon.com/OSMB/library/docs/PaddlingSafely.pdf
  • Check the Marine Board’s boating hazards web page to learn where there are reported navigation hazards, at http://www.boatoregon.com/OSMB/safety/navigation_hazards.shtml.
  • Go slow if operating a motorboat.  Submerged pilings, rocks, and other debris are extremely difficult to see when water levels are high and the water is churned up.  With currents running fast, a log can appear out of nowhere.  Use your motor for maneuverability to avoid hazards and to power against the current.
  • The National Weather Service has river level and river forecast information for most of Oregon’s rivers.  This is an excellent resource to find out the actual vs. forecasted water and current levels: http://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/rfc/.
  • Fill out a float plan and leave it with a friend or relatives.  Where are you going?  When do you expect to be back?  What activity are you doing?  What are you wearing and what type of boat are you in?  This is information law enforcement personnel will need to know in case of an emergency.  A float plan can be downloaded from the Marine Board’s website: http://www.boatoregon.com/OSMB/library/docs/FloatPlan.pdf
  • Do not attempt to go boating in conditions with limited visibility or near sunrise or sunset.  Plan on coming in well before sunset and allow for changing weather conditions.  Waiting to come in until dusk makes rescue more difficult and puts others at risk of injury as well.  
  • Expect the unexpected.  Plan for what you would do if your boat capsized.  Could you pull yourself out of the water onto the boat?  Should this happen, stay with the boat on the upstream side of the craft.  It’s much easier to spot a capsized boat than a person in swift water.  If you can’t stay with the boat…stay calm and catch your breath.  Swim with the current at a 45 degree angle, floating with your feet pointed downstream on your back and using your arms like oars to make it to the shore safely.  Avoid being pinned against obstacles or swept under the boat.  Do you have a way to communicate in case of an emergency?  Carry a whistle attached to your PFD, cell-phone in a zip lock/water-tight bag, or both.  Taking a few minutes to think about “what if” scenarios are well worth your time.  
It’s important to have fun, and it’s important to be safe.  Proper planning and preparation are all that’s needed to still go out and enjoy the water, safely.
For more information about boating safety, required equipment, and waterway information, visit www.boatoregon.com.