It’s easy to see the exposed gravel bars and shoals that formed on area waterways as the water levels drop and the temperature steadily creeps up. Many reservoirs too, are showing previously submerged stumps. Low water levels can create specific challenges that boaters need to be aware of.
This dynamic landscape, especially in rivers, changes from week to week. It’s important for boaters to be aware that what wasn’t visible or dangerous a week ago could be now, and to know how to alter their boat operation for a safe and enjoyable time on the water. The Oregon State Marine Board offers the following tips on how to have fun and stay safe:
• Boat with a buddy, especially in paddlecraft. Have at least two boats and a plan if the party is separated. Always let a friend or family member know where you’re going, when you expect to return, what clothing you’re wearing and who’s with you.
• Stand Up Paddleboards are considered boats in Oregon, and require having a properly fitting life jacket and a sound-producing device like a whistle, on board. Better yet — wear the jacket and attach the whistle. If you use a leash, ensure it’s the appropriate leash for the waterway you’re paddling.
• Keep a proper lookout and look what’s ahead, not what’s just in front of you.
• Scouting ahead is worth your time. Determine the safest course around boulders, gravel bars or fallen trees/root wads.
• Read the water. Where is there whitewater? Where does the water eddy? How is the water riffling? These water characteristics indicate what’s below the surface, a sense of depth and gives key information on how to safely navigate.
• Go with your “gut feeling.” If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your gut. When in doubt, portage (drag or carry) the boat over and around an obstruction. Skill level and confidence can mean the difference between an easy run and a potentially dangerous one.
• Stay well clear of log jams and strainers (root wads, trees, branches, logs). They allow water through them, but can catch and entrap paddlers underwater or entangle lines on boats.
• Know your limits — not when you’re at your best, but at that specific moment. Stick to rivers with Class I or II rapids unless you have the skill and conditioning for advanced water levels.
• Use the right gear for the type of boating. When running Class III or higher rapids, a helmet, properly fitting life jacket, a throw bag and secured gear are incredibly important.
• On reservoirs and lakes, sharp drop-off’s are a given. Tree stumps, boulders and fallen trees may not be visible. Take special care when operating near the banks, where many of these obstructions lie just below the surface. Always wear a life jacket when on the banks. Banks are often unstable.
• On coastal bays, pay attention to the weather and the tide. A receding tide could leave a boater “stuck” at the wrong place at the wrong time.
• Check the Marine Board’s website for reported navigation obstructions and report serious or unexpected ones. The Marine Board will coordinate an evaluation of the obstruction with local law enforcement. By reporting obstructions, you can help ensure safe navigation on popular waterways for everyone.
Oregon State Marine Board may be reached by calling 503-378-8800.