Proposal would require life jackets for all river users

January 23, 2017
Proposal would require life jackets for all river users

Failure to wear one would bring a $30 fine

By Scott Hammers

The Oregon Marine Board has proposed a change in state law that would require floaters on the Deschutes River — and elsewhere — to wear life jackets or face a $30 fine.

Under current law, children 12 and under are required to wear life jackets while in a boat, while older boaters must carry a life jacket. The law does not apply to those who use items that are not considered boats but can be used to travel on water, such as inner tubes, air mattresses, pool toys and surfboards, which the proposed new law defines as “nonmotorized craft.

If passed, the proposed law would require users of nonmotorized craft to wear a life jacket when on any river or stream in Oregon. Lifejacket rules on boats would remain unchanged.

The bill is of particular interest to the Bend Park & Recreation District, which opened the Bend Whitewater Park in September 2015. The park’s passageway channel and whitewater play area have helped boost interest in the already-popular practice of floating the river through Bend.

Don Horton, executive director of the district, said he’s generally supportive of the marine board’s goals. He said while life jacket use on the river is relatively uncommon, it’s been increasing among children. The district launched an effort last summer to encourage life jackets, including a program at Riverbend Park in which Sun Country Tours loaned life jackets to river floaters free of charge.

Habits change over time, Horton said, and life jacket use could follow the same pattern of helmet use for cyclists and skiers.

The park district has no enforcement authority, and Bend Police and the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office do not routinely conduct marine patrols within the city.

The Marine Board’s proposal would also implement a permitting program for boats without motors. Boaters would be required to obtain a permit at a cost between $4 for a week and $20 for two years, and be required to carry the permit when operating their boat.

The bill, House Bill 2320, is before the House Committee on Transportation Policy. Committee members have not yet scheduled a hearing to consider the measure.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387,

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