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Preparation for the Season

Preparation and planning are part of what makes the boating experience FUN! Below are some considerations as you plan for your epic excursions to ensure a safe and enjoyable time on the water.
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 vs. at the boat launch to keep launching and retrieving traffic flowing.

 Preparation and Planning Primer for Motorboats

​Depending on your boat type and boat length, certain safety equipment ​may be required. Be sure you have these items and they are in good, serviceable (not expired) condition. For sure you'll need properly fitting life jackets, sound producing devices, fire extinguisher(s)navigation lighting, and boater education card

Also, if you are a paddler with a boat 10' or longer, make sure to purchase and are able to display your Waterway Access Permit. Motorized boaters, make sure you have a current registrationand carry your Certificate of Number on board. Here's where you can find additional statewide regulations.

​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

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.  

​“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.

​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.

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.​

  • 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.


​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.


​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.


​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.​

​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.

10 Basic Items to Check Each Season for Paddlers Paddling_springCheck.jpg

Shared from Paddling.com

While it is important to always check your entire boat and storehouse of gear, here are ten basic items to check each season:

1. Loose fittings and lines on your kayak - Nuts have a way of loosening themselves over winter. Usually, you can test these with your fingers. Likewise, while knots usually don't come loose, the tension on deck lines may need tightening - or replaced.

2. Rudder/Skeg systems- Kinks in cables, tight or stuck pulleys, stiff skeg releases - things lock up over winter. A good fall maintenance program usually mitigates these problems, but sometimes we forget until our first outing four months later. Usually the same lubricant that you'd use for prevention (WD-40, Corrosion Block) can be used as the cure. If you prefer to use more environmentally friendly lubricants such as silicon, you may have to physically work the stiffness out of the moving parts and then apply the silicon (usually in a gel form). Kinks and other obstructions in cables can be worked out, but should be checked as they do decrease the efficiency of the cable.

3. Stiff Foot Pedals- Either as part of your rudder system check or alone, foot pedals should be checked as well. While sand and dirt are the usual culprits for locking up foot pedals, salt-water corrosion can jam everything up as well. Make sure the cable attachment is solid, too. It's not uncommon to find out your pedal is stuck only after you press forward and tear out the cable attachment (There's a reason that the pedal isn't moving so pressing harder is not the proper option).

4. Zippers and StopLocks - At least when a zipper is stuck open you can still use a gear bag. I find most often that on bags with a dual zipper that one side always seems to be stuck - and right at the base where the zipper pull is tucked under the seams. The biggest problem I've encountered with zippers is that it sometimes takes more force to loosen the pull than the material can withstand and you end up tearing the unit right out of the track. I've used Liquid Wrench, WD-40, and even the heat of a butane torch to wiggle zippers free. Keep them rinsed and lubricated in the first place! Stoplocks usually chip and break and basically just need replacing.

If your dry bags are beyond saving, you can check out some of our top picks here.

5. Two-Piece Paddles- I usually don't like putting anything on my paddle tube to keep it from sticking. Occasionally I might smear on a light layer of silicon. I think the best protection is to thoroughly rinse the two sections after each use and let them air dry.

6. Clothing, other gear- It's just good sense to make sure nothing is worn to the point it could fail while on the water. Of course, those things to be replaced should have been on your Christmas gift wish list, right?

Make sure you check your PFD and replace as needed!

7. Restocking your emergency kit- Things spoil, get wet or dry and otherwise outlive their purpose. I carry a kit with extra batteries, matches and such and most assuredly they need to be checked each season (and then some). A common practice is to steal food from survival/emergency packs to ward off hunger on those days you forget to pack a snack. You figure one energy bar won't matter. Say that when you are out of food during the real thing. Better to refresh the emergency rations each spring and then have the will power not to raid it during a weak moment of hunger.

8. Batteries in general - It's generally not a good idea to story any battery-powered electronic gear for long periods of time without first removing the batteries. It makes sense then to remember to replace them each spring. While most pieces of gear will show you how much battery juice remains, it seems that indicator hits "empty" pretty quickly, and usually at a very inopportune moment. Freshen up your stash of batteries each spring.

9. Racks and Saddles - How's the padding on your racks and saddles? I use pipe insulation as padding on my roof racks and tend to replace them each summer or two depending on use. I've also noticed that sometimes there are contact spots on some saddles that require extra cushioning. It's a good idea to make sure the clamps on your rack aren't worn or twisted or otherwise compromised from taking a good grip onto your vehicle.

10. Acclimate yourself! - May this be the spring you are going to push your paddling envelope to develop or enhance more skills! Is this the summer you are going to make the extended trip? Whatever goals you set last winter and haven't yet achieved, make those a priority. Maybe you took part in pool sessions. Use spring to hone those skills throughout the season.

I'm sure there are many things one can add or change on this list. The important thing is to maintain a responsible attitude towards your gear - for safety's sake and for optimum paddling pleasure. Good equipment works better and is safer. Now get out there and enjoy the season!

Tom Watson is an avid sea kayaker and freelance writer. He also posts articles, thoughts and more tips on his website: tomoutdoors.com. He has written 2 books, "Kids Gone Paddlin" and "How to Think Like A Survivor" that are available on Amazon.com.

 

 
 
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