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Boating with Paddlecraft
NEW! Free Online Paddlesport Course

Each year thousands of people flock to the waterways with little knowledge about their boat, where they’re operating, what the legal requirements are, and the skill needed to avoid an accident. The Oregon State Marine Board now offers a great introduction to the waterways with a free online paddling course, approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.
The Online Paddling Course, offered through BoaterExam.com, covers state boating laws, rules of the road, how to read the waterway, what to do in case of an emergency, and other tips to enhance boater’s knowledge base and operating skills.
We’re so fortunate to have great public access to rivers, lakes, bays and the ocean in Oregon to play in. Learning how to paddle is a great way to get your feet wet in recreational boating, and by starting off with basic boating knowledge will make your experience more enjoyable and safer.

Canoes, Kayaks and Rafts
 Canoeists on Lake Owyhee 
Paddling down a river or across a lake or bay is an enjoyable and safe activity, gaining popularity.  But according to statistics, paddlers in small crafts such as canoes, kayaks and rafts are more than twice as likely to drown as individuals operating other types of vessels. 
The higher rate of fatalities can be attributed to two factors:
  • Some paddlers don’t consider themselves “boaters” and may not follow the same safe practices as other small vessel operators. 
  • Some paddlers need to develop their skills or knowledge to operate their small, unstable craft safely.  They may be unaware of hazards unique to paddlesports, such as fast currents and low-head dams, or don’t follow proper safety procedures when encountering them.



Prepare by doing the following:
1.    Always wear a properly fitting PFD and know how to swim in a river current.Good fit, bad fit PFD 
2.    Never paddle alone.  Bring along at least one other boater.  When   canoeing, two canoes with two canoeists each are recommended.  Three crafts with two paddlers each are even better.  If unfamiliar with the waterway, paddle with someone knowledgeable.
3.    Never overload the craft.  Tie down gear and distribute weight evenly. 
4.    Maintain a low center of gravity and three points of contact.  Keep your weight balanced over the center of the craft.

  • Standing up or moving around in a small craft can cause it to capsize –a leading cause of fatalities among paddlers.
  • Leaning a shoulder over the edge of the craft can also destabilize it enough to capsize.
5.    Stay alert at all times and be aware of your surroundings, including nearby powerboats.  Be prepared to react when dangerous situations arise.
6.    Practice re-boarding your craft in the water with the help of a companion.
7.    Dress properly for the weather and type of boating.
8.    Check your craft for leaks.
9.    Map a general route and timetable when embarking on a long trip.  Arrange for your vehicles to be shuttled to the takeout.
10. Know the weather conditions before you head out.  While paddling, watch the weather and stay close to shore.  Head for shore if the waves increase.

Stand Up Paddleboards
 Stand Up Paddleboarder
Paddleboarding is an activity that started in the 1940’s in Hawaii, but recently has exploded in popularity the Pacific Northwest as an outdoor recreation activity.  It's a great way to connect with nature, an excellent form of exercise and many clubs, regattas, and races are being formally organized in Oregon.  However, due to the popularity of paddleboarding and the unfamiliarity of the waterways for many of the users, education is becoming a necessity in order to enjoy this activity safely.
If paddleboarding on a river, lake or bay for transportation and being used beyond the limits of swimming, surfing or a confined area, a paddle board is considered a boat.  As such, paddle boarders need to carry a properly fitting lifejacket and sound producing device.  The US Coast Guard made the determination that paddleboards were boats in 2009.  The Marine Board is enforcing this determination to be consistent with federal law.

Rowing & Skulling

 Rowing Shell Competition -single scull
Oregon's waterways are also home to rowing shells, from single skulls to eight-oared sweep boats.  Although these craft are long (a single rowing shell runs 25 to 30 feet long, and some can be up to 65 feet long).  They are extremely narrow, light weight and fragile. 
Team and club rowing practice regularly occur on the Willamette and Columbia Rivers near downtown Portland.  Motor boat operators are urged to stay well clear of any rowing vessels.  A wake from a motor boat can swamp a rowing shell and also cause serious damage -even breaking the boat in half.  Stop or operate at a slow-no-wake speed until the rowers have passed.  Rowers launch from special docks at water level so it is critically important to follow slow-no-wake rules when near a pier, boat ramp or dock.

Personal Flotation Device Exemption per OAR 250-010-0154(6):

Racing shells, rowing sculls, racing canoes and racing kayaks are exempted from the requirements for carriage of any Type PFD. Racing shells, rowing sculls, racing canoes, and racing kayaks are manually propelled vessels that are recognized by national or international racing associations for use in competitive racing an in which all occupants row, scull, or paddle, with the exception of a coxswain, if one is provided, and are not designed to carry and do not carry any equipment not solely for competitive racing.

A properly equipped chase boat is highly recommended for competitive racing practices and events, should an accident occur and occupants fall overboard.  

Understanding Rivers
 McKenzie River, Martin Rapids 2010 
  • Rivers are constantly changing.  It's up to you to be familiar with these changes.
  • In a river without obstructions, the slowest moving water is near the bottom and the fastest is near the surface.
  • Eddies are created behind an obstruction as water fills in the void behind it.  The current behind an eddy is actually moving upstream.  Skilled paddlers use eddies as a place to stop and rest.
  • Hydraulics occur as water flows over an obstruction and a slight depression forms behind it.  Downstream water attempts to fill this void, creating a upstream flow toward the obstruction.  A low-head dam is a perfect and deadly example of a hydraulic.  Avoid hydraulics altogether.

River Hazards
 Drift boat caught in a tree snag on the North Santiam River, 2011.
Trees, root wads and other natural debris are a common part of Oregon's rivers and streams, providing important ecological benefits such as fish habitat, sediment removal, etc. They're very dangerous to boats. Deadheads may float just below the surface, so keep a close watch out for subtle changes in the water's surface. Give strainers - those trees hanging out from the bank - they can trap a boat in the current and force it underwater. Floating debris can ride up your anchor rope and push your boat underwater in seconds. Keep a sharp look out upstream and use a quick-release anchor system for just such emergencies.
·         Low-head dams: These structures are difficult to see and can trap paddlers.  Consult a map of the river before your trip and know where dams are located.  Always portage (carry) your craft around them.
·         Rapids:  When approaching rapids, go ashore well upstream and check them out before continuing (scouting).  If you see dangerous conditions, portage around them.
·         Strainers:  These river obstructions allow water to flow through but block vessels and could throw you overboard and damage or trap your craft.  Strainers may include overhanging branches, logjams, or flooded islands.  Strainers are also notorious for causing death by drowning.
  • If paddling on rivers with whitewater rapids, any rapids designated as a Class III or higher, boaters are required to wear a properly fitting, U.S. Coast Guard -approved life jacket.

Rules of the Road
What Paddlers Need to Know When Sharing the Waterways
From the ACA Rules of the Road Brochure
  • Waterways have "lanes of travel" similar to a highway system.  Know the area you plan to paddle.  If you are near commercial waterways, the navigation charts change often and you need a current set.
  • The depth of the channel may limit deep-draft vessels.  You, however, are mobile and agile. Make use of your ability to move out of the way.  If you are not crossing the channel, stay close to shore.  Large stationary objects offer a margin of protection.
  • At night, a white light must be shown toward oncoming traffic.  Bright colors not only help keep track of fellow paddlers, but make you far easier to see if separated from your craft.
  • If motorized craft are nearby, you are far less likely to capsize if you turn your bow into the wave and don't take the wake broadside.
  • Wear bright, noticeable clothing.
  • Use reflective tape on your paddle blades.
  • Keep your whistle handy.
  • Any vessel less than 20 meters should not impede the passage of a larger ship, whether under power or not.
  • Monitor channels 13 & 16 on your VHF radio.
  • At night and during restricted visibility, a white light must be shown toward on-coming traffic.
  • Green lights or buoys indicate the starboard (right side) and red lights or buoys indicate port (left side).  When returning or heading upstream, red lights or buoys should be on your starboard (right) side.  Remember, "Red, Right, Returning."  The markers are primarily for larger craft so if you stay between the light or buoy and the shore, you are out of the way of any larger, faster craft.
    ACA Logo

Oregon Water Trails

Paddler on the Willamette River 
Alsea River Water Trail     
Deschutes River Paddle Trail 
Lower Columbia River Water Trail 
Northwest Discovery Water Trail 
Sandy River Water Trail 
Siuslaw River Water Trail 
Tillamook County Water Trail 
Willamette River Water Trail 
Willamette River Bridge Replacement in Eugene - channel to use for floaters 

NEW! Chehalem Paddle Launch
Chehalem Paddle Launch -Dundee, ORChehalem Park and Recreation District (CPRD) has created a new paddle launch business where you can rent a kayak or canoe and enjoy a recreational paddle on the Willamette River in Dundee. 
The launch is a CPRD program developed by a group of community volunteers under the guidance of the Ford Family Foundation Leadership Institute.  
The Willamette River runs through the heart of wine county, rimmed with alder, cottonwood, dogwood and a native understory filled with bird life.  The float begins on a slow moving channel formerly used as a log-raft site near the middle of Ash Island.  Here the Willamette River bifurcates into the faster moving main channel and the slower moving shallow channel.  Paddlers can circumnavigate Ash Island and view the wing dam pilings remaining from the logging days and explore the mouth of Chehalem Creek.
The launch is open for rentals through Labor Day weekend on weekends from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Paddlers can bring their own boats at any time. 
For rental fees, directions and more information, visit the Chehalem Paddle Launch website.

U.S. Coast Guard's PaddleSmart
The U.S. Coast Guard District 13 launched a new program in 2011, called "PaddleSmart."  The premise is simple.  Tag your paddle craft so if you ever become separated from it, the craft can be returned to you!  The tag is free.  Learn more at www.uscg.mil/d13/paddlesmart.
Paddle Safe, Paddle Smart.

Other Paddling Resources
Rogue River Drift Run
American Canoe Association (ACA) 
Willamette Riverkeeper
Columbia Riverkeeper
Adopt-A-River -SOLV
American Whitewater Association

Boater Practices, Ethics and Conduct

Here's a great resource to learn how to help your boating activity and preserve the things you love.  It all begins with YOUR behavior.

Practices, Ethics and Conduct -a Brochure from the American Canoe Association