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Motor or Jet Propulsion

Graphic of a motorboatGraphic of a person wearing a life jacket operating a personal watercraft Towed waterskiier wearing a life jacketTowed wakeboarder wearing a life jacketTowed tuber wearing a life jacket

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

Got a motor over 10 horsepower? Then you'll need to take a boating safety course and carry a Boating Safety Education Card. The mandatory education law was enacted in 1999 because statistics showed operators with higher horsepower were involved in incidents and fatalities more frequently than those boats under 10 hp. ​

The law also states:

  • Youths must be 12 or older to get a boating education card.
  • Youths age 11 and under are not allowed to operate a motorboat.
  • Youths 12-15 years old operating a motorboat of any size.
    • Can operate a boat with more than 10 hp if accompanied by a person 16 or older (18 or older for personal watercraft) who has a boating education card.
    • Can operate a boat of 10 hp or less without an adult. 
A person 16 or older will need a boating education card to operate a powerboat (including a PWC) greater than 10 hp.

Example of a boater education card

​Every sport and activity has gear; safety gear is a must-have with boating! In the motorized boating world, gear is also referred to as "equipment," and some items must be carried on board. And what type of equipment varies by the length of your boat and the propulsion. 

Equipment and requirements for boats 16 feet to less than 26 feet:

1.  Wearable Life Jackets
Boats under 26 feet need to carry properly fitting, U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jacket(s) for each person on board and the life jacket must be readily accessible.  The boat must also carry a Type IV throwable cushion.  All children 12 and younger are required to wear a life jacket while on an open deck or cockpit when a boat is underway or being towed.

*Motorboats less than 16 feet in length and all paddlecraft need to carry properly fitting, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket(s) for each person on board and the life jacket must be readily accessible but are not required to carry a Type IV throwable cushion.

​A boat less than 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) must carry a sound-producing device such as a whistle or compressed air horn. It's easy to attach a whistle to a life jacket.  Both are required equipment.

3.  Fire Extinguisher when no fixed fire extinguishing system is installed. Every motorboat, except outboard motorboats less than 26 feet in length of open construction, shall carry on board, fully charged and in serviceable condition a B-I (or 5-B) type hand portable, marine-approved fire extinguisher.

4. Carburetor Backfire Flame Arrestor is required for inboard motors not exposed to the atmosphere above the gunwale.

5. Muffling System for the Exhaust of each internal combustion engine.
6. Ventilation System The type depends on when the boat was built. 

7. Navigation Lighting -Lights are required only when the boat is underway or at anchor between sunset and sunrise and during restricted visibility.

Engine Cut-Off Switches: A Federal boat engine cutoff switch law went into effect on April 1, 2021. This law applies to operators of motorboats under 26 feet for on-plane or at displacement speeds. Oregon approved rules in alignment with federal law and requires the use of an engine cut-off switch while operating a motorboat at a planing speed. The rule does not apply if the boat is not equipped with an engine cut-off switch or the main helm of the boat is installed within an enclosed cabin.  ​​

Visual Distress Signals (Saltwater)
All boats operating in the ocean or coastal waters west of the line of demarcation (jetty tips) must carry U.S. Coast Guard-approved VDS.

VDS allows boat operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency.  

There are three categories of visual distress signals:

1.    Day signals (visible in bright sunlight)

2.    Night signals (visible at night)

3.    Both day and night signals  

VDS are either pyrotechnic (smoke and flames) or non-pyrotechnic (non-combustible and electronic). Operators must select the appropriate devices and have the minimum quantity as referenced in 33CFR175.110 depending on which category. VDS must be U.S. Coast Guard-approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible. 

If pyrotechnic devices are selected, a minimum of three must be carried. Any combination can be carried as long as they add up to three signals for day use and three signals for night use. Three day/night signaling devices meet both requirements. There's a variety and different combinations of pyrotechnic devices that can be onboard to meet the carriage requirements.

The most common U.S. Coast Guard-approved non-pyrotechnic devices are an Orange Day Flag (day) and Electronic Distress Signal (night) to meet requirements.

Types of pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic visual distress signals

Watercraft propelled by a motor and sailboats 12 feet or longer must be titled and registered in Oregon. ORS 830.705(2)

​Motorboats, including Personal Watercraft (PWC) must have a valid motorboat registration decal affixed to the bow of the boat. This applies to boats moored in Oregon waters. The operator must also carry the boat's Certificate of Number. Refer to Title & Registration for FAQs.

Motorized boat operators must also comply with local and statewide rules of operation. Visit our interactive Boat Oregon Map and select the Rules layer for the area you plan to explore.​

​Boat launches were designed with the motorized boater in mind. Many asphalt and concrete ramps have a v-groove to help with boat trailer traction. 

Even though each facility's boat ramp differs, there's an art to​ boat launching

Before getting into line or approaching the ramp: 
  • Take time to transfer gear, food, supplies, other safety gear, and equipment from the tow vehicle to the boat. 
  • Remove tie-downs securing the boat to the trailer, but make sure the winch line is still hooked to the bow eye. 
  • This is a good time to install and tighten all drain plugs, especially the ones at the bottom of the transom. 
  • Hook up fuel lines, if necessary, and pressurize the fuel line with a couple of pumps on the primer bulb. 
  • Check batteries to make sure they're charged. 
  • If your trailer lights are not waterproof, unplug the wiring harness between the trailer and your tow vehicle. This will prevent damage to your lights and blown fuses. 
  • Raise your outboard or stern drive so they won't scrape on the ramp. 
  • Tie at least one (preferably two) docking lines to the boat so that someone helping you will be able to control the boat after it's launched.
The last thing to do before getting in line is to take a few minutes to check out the launch ramp. Take note of how steep the ramp is, how deep the water is, and whether the ramp itself is dry or slick with algae. Is there a dock to tie up to after launching or will it be necessary to beach or anchor your boat? 

Check out more launching and retrieving protocols below in the preparation column.

Planning and Preparation

Make sure your vessel is in ship shape before lining up at the boat ramp:

  • Make sure your motor and other equipment are in good working order.
  • Prep your gear and supplies in the parking or staging area. Avoid any delays at the boat launch so traffic can flow.

  • Do not exceed either the stated maximum weight capacity or the maximum number of people indicated by your boat capacity plate.
  • The maximum weight is the combined weight of passengers, gear and motors (including ballast tanks or other devices).
  • It’s a violation to exceed the boat capacity. If your boat does not have a capacity plate, use the following formula to determine the number of people the boat will safely carry, and do not exceed that limit.

Number of people = Length of boat (in feet) X Width of the boat (in feet) / 15

The results give the number of persons (150 lb. average) that can be put aboard without crowding, in good weather conditions. Overloading a boat is not only dangerous, it’s illegal.

​Our waterways are always cold and sudden immersion can lead to an involuntary gasp reflex where a person breathes in water which then enters into the lungs - leading to drowning. A life jacket will keep a person’s head above water so inhaling water is less likely, and will allow the person to gain control of their breathing. It's important boaters know how to self-rescue and the 1-10-1 principle: 

1-10-1 principle of cold water survival

​Have a VHF radio for coastal rivers and bays, as well as the ocean. When boating in the ocean, also consider more robust communication devices like an EPIRB or PLB.  At a minimum, carry a cell phone in a dry pak. Cell phones are considered an unreliable form of communication in many locations due to limited cell tower signal strength, especially in remote areas.

​Most fires and explosions happen shortly after fueling. To prevent this type of accident, follow these rules:

  1. Fuel before dark.
  2. Don’t smoke or strike matches.
  3. Shut off motors. Turn off electrical equipment.
  4. Close all windows, doors and openings.
  5. Take portable tanks out of the boat and fill them on the dock.
  6. Keep the fill nozzle in contact with the tank rim to prevent a buildup of static electricity, which could produce a spark.
  7. Fuel tanks expand as they warm. Do not fill tanks completely, because overfilling can lead to spills.
  8. Wipe up any spilled gasoline from around the boat. Discard the cloth in a safe manner. The bilge pad will soak up any overflow or spills while protecting the water.
  9. If your boat is equipped with a power ventilation system (blower), turn it on for at least four minutes after fueling, prior to starting your engine. This will help eliminate gas vapors in the bilge.
  10. Before restarting the engine, sniff the bilge and engine compartments for fumes. Periodically check the entire fuel system for leaks. Some fuels contain alcohol (ethanol-blended fuel), which can cause rubber gaskets and hoses to deteriorate, resulting in fuel leaks and clogged fuel filters. Be sure to winterize your boat each season, so it runs well.

Boaters who plan a trip for more than a day should complete a “Float Plan” and leave it with a friend or neighbor. Then, if you don’t return as planned, the proper agency can be notified. The float plan will provide the necessary information including where you are going and when you’re expecting to be back. Be sure to tell people when you return.​

​“Stability” is the resistance of a boat to forces that tend to induce a boat to “tip” from one side to the other. Smaller boats tend to have less stability based on the center of gravity of the boat, AND the individuals in the boat. People, gear, and environmental conditions have a greater stability impact on smaller, lighter boats. Small boat operators need to pay close attention to weather conditions, water conditions, how their boat is operating, gear weight and most importantly, their own impact on overall stability. Never stand up quickly, even when landing a big fish! Keep your center of gravity along the center line of the boat as much as possible. Falls overboard and capsizing are the primary contributing factors of accidents and fatalities in Oregon.

Operators are responsible for carefully loading supplies and seating passengers properly. Remember:

  1. Spread weight evenly.
  2. Fasten gear to prevent shifting.
  3. Keep passengers seated in designated areas. Sitting on the gunwales, bow, or transom of a boat that’s underway is unsafe and illegal.
  4. Don’t overload the boat. Follow the boat manufacturer’s capacity plate.

​The following tips are offered to assist you in launching and retrieving your boat to avoid unnecessary delay and blocking the ramp. Conduct these operations in the “staging area,” as much as possible. 

Staging Area

  1. Be sure all required safety equipment and certificate of number are on board. You must also carry a boater education card if the boat motor is over 10 hp.
  2. Load your boat with your gear and supplies in the staging area.
  3. Make sure the trailer tongue is securely fastened to the ball hitch, remove all tie-downs and un-plug the trailer lights.
  4. Check condition of battery, motor and angle of drive unit (tilted up). Also, make sure your bilge pump works.
  5. Make sure the boat plug is firmly in place.

Launching (retrieving is in reverse order)

  1. Slowly reverse the boat trailer down the ramp, and stop just before the stern hangs over the water.
  2. Disconnect the winch strap and remove any pins or other devices used to prevent an outboard motor from tipping down.
  3. Back the boat trailer down the ramp until the trailer wheels are submerged. Have a helper take a bow line, or tie it to your vehicle or winch handle.
  4. Float off the trailer. Once the boat is away from the trailer, tie your vessel to the dock with the bow line.  Avoid "power loading," which displaces material at the toe of the boat ramp, causing deep ruts and shoals that making launching and retrieving potentially dangerous.  This practice can also cause significant damage to the toe of the ramp, not to mention a boat trailer or boat hull. Experienced boaters will have someone move the boat away from the dock until the driver has parked and is ready to board.
  5. Always run the blower for four minutes before you start the engine. You can begin this process at the staging area to reduce your wait time.
  6. When retrieving, remember to "Pull the Plug​" and allow all water-holding compartments to drain as you leave the waterbody and while in transit.

Be courteous! The less time you spend on the ramp or at the dock, the more other boaters will appreciate you. Learn best practices to avoid conflict at the boating facility.

​Oregon law requires a two-year trailer registration, when the loaded weight of the trailer and boat exceed 1800 pounds. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) registers trailers. 

Trailers, including boat trailers, must have stop, tail and turn signal lights with two red reflectors mounted on the rear of the trailer. They must also have side reflectors and marker lights: amber on the side at the front, and red on the sides at the rear. These lights and reflectors may be separate units or installed in combinations. If the trailer is over 80 inches wide, it must have clearance and identification lights. If the trailer has a license plate, it must have a license plate light.

Booster brakes are best with heavy boats. The driver of the towing vehicle must be able to safely stop in a reasonable distance.

Adequate tie-downs are needed at the bow and stern. Temporary bumper hitches are not recommended.

Hitches should be welded or bolted to the frame of the towing vehicle.

One or two safety chains or cables are required, connected to prevent the tow bar from dropping to the ground in the event the toolbar or coupling device fails. The chains or cables must have a tensile strength equal to the weight of the trailer, and long enough to permit proper turning of the vehicle. Take time to practice maneuvering and backing in an open area before launching at the ramp, to develop proficiency.  

Keep in mind, backing down a ramp in a straight line is more difficult than on level ground.

​All persons operating a rented watercraft greater than 10 hp must carry the signed portion of the Watercraft Rental Safety Checklist if they do not already possess a boater education card. All other provisions of the Mandatory Boater Education Program apply, including minimum operator ages and supervision. The livery, or rental facility, will have each boat operator complete this form and walk through basic boating safety items on this checklist with a qualified staff member. Your signed copy of this checklist acts as a temporary boater education card only during the operation of the rented watercraft.​

Before you head out, check the local weather and sea conditions. Weather information is available by listening to local radio stations, U.S. Coast Guard radio, or the National Weather Service VHF/FM broadcasts on frequencies: 162.400, 162.425, 162.475 and 162.550 MHz in areas where available. Along the Oregon coast, tune in to 1610 AM for local weather and coastal bar crossing information. Storm warning flags are displayed at selected coastal locations such as U.S. Coast Guard stations, marinas, public piers and yacht clubs. These signals are a prediction of potentially dangerous wind, or in the case of small craft warnings, winds and seas dangerous to small boats. Boaters should know the signals and heed their warnings, especially at coastal bar locations.  


To make waterskiing safer and more enjoyable for all, operators must observe the following laws: 

  • Skiing between sunset and sunrise is prohibited. 
  • There must be another person onboard as a lookout. 
  • Boaters must carry and use a red or orange “skier down” flag when the skier is in the water. 
  • Towed persons are considered onboard the tow boat. Therefore, children ages 12 and under on any towed device or “biscuits” must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. 
  • A PWC must have a three-person capacity to carry the operator, observer, and person being towed. 

The operator and skier must not operate: 

  • In a manner endangering the safety of persons or property. 
  • Under the influence of intoxicating alcohol or drugs (BUII). 

Here are some good tips for skiers: 

  • Always keep an eye on the water ahead of you. 
  • If you fall, hold up a ski or arm to signal to the boat operator you’re “o.k.” 
  • When landing, come in parallel to the shore at low speed. 
  • Falls are inevitable–and it’s a practical way to stop yourself. Simply let go of the tow line and sit down in the water. If you know you will fall sideways, curl up into a ball before you hit the water. Always be sure to throw the tow bar well clear to avoid becoming tangled in the rope. 

Things skiers shouldn’t do: 

  • Don’t ski in shallow water or near swimmers. 
  • Don’t wrap the rope around any part of the body.
  • Don’t ski at night; and, 
  • Don’t yell the command, “hit it” until the rope is taught and you’re ready to be pulled.

Wakeboarding & Surfing are popular activities from a wake boat. These boats are designed to make a larger, steeper wake that "carries" the surfer on the wave. Most wakeboard boats have several design features that help to create large wakes including ballast, wedges, and hull technology. Wake boat operators are urged to show respect and courtesy to other boaters and be conscientious of how they operate, with or without wake-enhancing devices, when operating in narrow water bodies where there are numerous docks, smaller watercraft, moorages, or other floating structures. Special education and other rules apply for wakesports including education and credentialing when used on the Willamette River in Marion, Multnomah, and Clackamas Counties. Other seasonal rules apply on the Lower Willamette River from Willamette Falls to the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland.

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