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Paddle Craft (Including Stand Up Paddleboarding)

Graphic of canoe anglingGraphic of kayakingGraphic of stand up paddleboarding

What you know can literally save your life and makes you a safer boater. 

The Oregon State Marine Board offers a great introduction to the waterways with a free online paddling course that's approved by the state and recognized by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). 

BoaterExam's Paddle Sport Safety Course

1. The Paddle Sports Safety Course, offered through​​, 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 boaters' knowledge base and operating skills. Please note that this program does not meet the requirements for mandatory motorized education and is geared toward non-motorized education.

Boat-Ed Paddlesport Safety Course

2. Boat Ed's Official Paddlesports ​Safety Course covers everything a paddlesports enthusiast needs to know to stay safe while using canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. Developed in partnership with the American Canoe Association (ACA), this course teaches you what to do before you go out paddling and how to have a safe and fun time while doing so. Please note that this course does not meet the requirements for mandatory motorized education and is geared toward paddling education. ​​

​1. Wearable Life Jacket

Sailboats less than 16 feet in length and all paddlecraft (canoes, kayaks, stand up paddleboards, drift boats or rafts, etc.) need to carry a properly fitting US Coast Guard-approved wearable life jacket for each person on board and the life jacket must be readily accessible. All children 12 and younger are required to wear a life jacket. 

Sailboats 16 feet and longer must also carry one throwable cushion.

All boaters operating in Class III or higher whitewater rapids must wear a properly fitting US Coast Guard life jacket. 

2. Sound Devices

A boat less than 39 feet 4 inches (or 12 meters) long, must carry a whistle or a compressed air horn.  It's easy to attach a whistle to a life jacket!  Both are required equipment. 

3. Navigation Lights

Required only when underway or at anchor between sunset and sunrise, and during periods of restricted visibility. ​

Life jacket example Whistle and flash light equipment

​A Waterway Access Permit is required to be carried by the operator of a paddlecraft 10 feet and longer, including sailboats between 10'-11'11".

One permit per boat and the permits are transferrable to other paddlecraft. 

Children 13 and younger are not required to have a permit. 

Permits can be purchased through ODFW's eLicensing system and through the Marine Board's Boat Oregon Store

Purchasing options are: 

  • One week (valid for 7 consecutive days) for $5 (plus a $1.50 portal provider. ODFW also offers a one-week permit for $5 (plus a $2 transaction fee).  
  • One calendar year for $17 (plus a $1.50 portal provider fee). The permit expires on December 31 of the year purchased) and;
  • Two calendar years for $30 (plus a $1.50 portal provider fee). The permit expires on December 31 of the year after purchase). 

Failure to show the permit is a Class D violation with a $115 fine.

Boat measurement is based on the maximum length of the boat when measured along its longest axis.​

Waterway access permits can be displayed on a mobile device or printed and carried with the paddler on the water.

​Developed boat ramps are designed with trailered boats in mind, but they're available for all boaters. There are some boating facilities designed for mixed-use with paddle launch access, but in areas where there is only a concrete or asphalt ramp, please be respectful of trailered boaters and launch from the edges of the ramp or consider using an area adjacent to the ramp to launch your boat.  Apply the same courtesy for gearing up your boat; use the parking lot or staging areas to load or remove gear for launching and retrieving. 

Assess the trailered motorboat launch/retrieving traffic. You are free to launch from the launch ramp, but please give priority to trailered boats. If possible, carry down your boat and launch it from the shoreline.  

Kayaker preparing to launch when no other trailered boats are launching

Staging paddlecraft for launching, and driving home at the end of the day, is a different process than for motorized boats. Ensure you are minimizing your time on the ramp by not staging on the boat ramp itself.  A good example is tying a paddle craft to a roof rack for the drive home. 

Consider carrying the boat away from the ramp to get it secured for the ride home.  If carrying it away from the ramp isn’t possible, then put the minimum number of straps needed to drive it away from the ramp to an area close by where you can finish strapping it to the roof rack.

Trip Planning and Preparation

Prepare for your paddling adventure by doing the following:

Graphic of a beaver wearing a life jacket and carrying a paddle

  1. Always wear a properly fitting life jacket and know how to swim in a river current. 
  2. Carry a sound-producing device, like a whistle and other communication devices.
  3. Print a Float Plan to leave with family or friends, so they know when you'll return, and call for help if you don't return when expected.
  4. Never boat under the influence of alcohol, drugs, marijuana, or inhalants.
  5. Never paddle on an outgoing tide. 
  6. Never paddle alone. Bring along at least one other boater. When paddling, two boats with two operators each, are recommended. Three boats with two paddlers each are even better. If unfamiliar with the waterway, paddle with someone knowledgeable. Stay in groups and don't spread out. Think of rivers like a highway, and the main channel is where motorboats are confined to operate. 
  7. Never overload the boat. Tie down the gear and distribute weight evenly.  
  8. Never overestimate your skill with the conditions. If you're new to paddling, start out on calm, flat water with minimal wind. Learn self-rescue and reboarding skills, and continually practice.  
  9. Maintain a low center of gravity and three points of contact. Keep your weight balanced over the center of the boat.
    • Standing up or moving around in a small boat can cause it to capsize –a leading cause of falls overboard among paddlers.
    • Leaning a shoulder over the edge of the boat can also destabilize it enough to capsize.
  10. Stay alert at all times and be aware of your surroundings, including nearby powerboats.  Be prepared to react when dangerous situations arise. 
  11. Dress properly for the water temperature, not the air temperature and the type of boating. RImage of a quick release leash for a stand up paddleboard on moving watersemember, you're on the water, so expect to get wet and dress for immersion. 
  12. Check your boat or paddleboard for leaks. 
  13. Map a general route and timetable when embarking on a long trip.  Arrange for your vehicles to be shuttled to the takeout. 
  14. Know the weather conditions before you head out.  While paddling, watch the weather and stay close to shore.  Head for shore if the waves or wind increase.
  15. Check for reported obstructions or other navigation alerts.
  16. STAND UP PADDLEBOARDINGThere are special considerations for paddleboarders. Paddleboards are defined as boats and therefore, have equipment requirements and safety considerations.

Share the Water

Listen for motorboats, and paddle closer together in groups when you hear a motorboat approaching. Motorboats need deeper water to safely operate and pass. If motorized boats pass nearby, you are far less likely to capsize if you turn your bow into the wave and do not take the wake broadside.

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. NOAA has digital charts available as a handy resource.
The depth of the channel may limit deep-draft vessels. Paddlers, 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 the shore. Large stationary objects offer a margin of protection. 

See and Be Seen

At night, a white light must be shown toward oncoming traffic.

Wear bright colors, not only to help keep track of fellow paddlers but make it easier for others to see you if separated from your boat. 

Infographic of two kayakers in a single kayak, with the "If Found - Contact" sticker

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