River Rats, Beware!

Ooops! This article was updated from an earlier version to reflect correct information about floaties. Never fear! You don’t need a permit.

Whoever said that it doesn’t get hot in Oregon is a filthy liar. With the latest heat wave in the valley, many people take to the trusty Willamette River for refuge. While grabbing an inflatable inner tube and beer at Bi-Mart is easy enough, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to have a safe and hassle free trip on the river—including minimal interaction with the Benton County Sheriff.

Boats n’ Floats

Canoes, kayaks and stand up paddle boards are all a class of watercraft seen in the eyes of the law as a non-motorized boat. For non-motorized boats in excess of 10 feet in length, operators need to have an invasive species permit. Invasive species permits are easy to obtain and inexpensive ($5-$10). The permit requires boaters to keep their boats clean and agree to get boats inspected at roadside boat inspection stations. These practices will help keep our aquatic ecosystems healthy. You will also be able to sleep at night knowing that you weren’t the jerk that brought a highly invasive mussel or plant into our lakes and rivers.

Life Jackets and “Sound Devices”
A wise person once said: “Dying sucks.” In order to prevent dying while on the river, anyone using a non-motorized boat is required to wear a life jacket. In 2017, the Oregon State Marine Board reported that of 13 boating-related fatalities, 46% involved an inflatable, canoe or kayak, and most of the deaths could have been prevented by wearing a life jacket. If comfort is a concern, there are life jackets made specifically for paddlers that are less obstructive than the life jackets of yore.

In addition to a life jacket, the Oregon State Marine Board requires operators of any boat (motorized or not) less than 40 feet to carry a sound device. No, your Bluetooth speaker in a sandwich baggy does not count as a sound device. To keep the fuzz at bay, boaters can carry an air horn or a whistle. Whistles are cheap and easy to attach to your life jacket.

If your day of fun on the river involves floating down the Willamette on a floaty avocado, an air mattress, inflatable unicorn or what have you, never fear—these floating contraptions don’t have to follow the same life jacket rules as canoes, kayaks and stand up paddleboards. This is thanks to last year’s rejection of HB2320, which attempted to classify innertubes and other inflatbable floatables as a type of non-motorized watercraft.

Boozin’ and Cruisin’
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that having a cold beer at the river on a hot day isn’t the most refreshing thing ever. Rather, I am going to inform you that operating your non-motorized watercraft under the influence is a good way to get the sheriff to come down on you like a sack of potatoes. Similar to motorized vehicles, you can get busted for having a blood alcohol content of over 0.08% while on the river. More practically, however, being drunk on the river on a hot day can put you on the fast track to heat exhaustion, which is a major bummer for all involved. Make sure to stay hydrated out there. Don’t get too hammered and at least put your booze in a soda can like a respectable river rat.

Now that we’ve successfully sucked the fun out of another outdoor activity, our job here is done. Stay safe out there and we’ll see you on the other side of the heat wave.

 

By Erica Johnson

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