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State floats bill to require floaters wear life jackets

Proposal would impose fine of up to $30

BEND, Ore. - You’ll likely see a lot more life jackets during a lazy summer float trip down the Deschutes River in coming years, if a proposal from the Oregon State Marine Board passes muster with lawmakers, requiring users of nonmotorized craft on rivers or streams to wear that safety gear – or face a fine of up to $30.

House Bill 2320 has been introduced at Gov. Kate Brown’s request for the agency at the legislative session that begins next week. Hearings have not yet been scheduled.

The measure would allow the Marine Board to create a “nonmotorized boating program,” and one of its concepts creates a new definition of "nonmotorized craft" for “inner tubes, air mattresses and pool toys that don't fall under the current definition of a boat," Marine Board Public Information Officer and Legislative Coordinator Ashley Massey said Monday.

"People operating a 'nonmotorized craft' would be required to wear a life jacket, as defined by the board, on all rivers and streams," Massey said.

On average, she noted, nonmotorized boaters account for half of the state's annual recreational boating fatalities.

The Marine Board doesn't keep statistics on the floating "nonmotorized craft," but Massey said "marine law enforcement spend a considerable amount of time rescuing people who become entrapped in obstructions, and each year there are drownings involving these craft."

"Many people are able to self-rescue," she added, "but as evidenced by many waterways being lined with punctured inner tubes and other pool toys, there are a lot of close calls."

The bill started out as a legislative concept created by an advisory committee made up of members from the nonmotorized community around the state, Massey said. They "wanted to define this group of waterway users because of conflict and safety concerns."

Nonmotorized craft "are generally not designed for river use and easily puncture," she said. "On swift-moving water, when a person falls out of an inner tube, the tube will quickly float out of the person's reach. These are the main reasons why people in (or on) nonmotorized craft would be required to wear a life jacket."

Canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are defined and considered separately as "nonmotorized boats," and users would be required to get and carry a $4 weekly, $12 yearly or $20 biennial permit. They are already required to have an aquatic invasive species permit, and would shift to this new permit, part of which would fund that program and the rest to new efforts to expand nonmotorized boat and craft facilities, access, law enforcement and education. There is no permit requirement or fee proposed for the inner tube floater crowd.

What do you think of the proposed life jacket requirement for river floaters? Weigh in here, and we hope you can soon also vote in our new KTVZ.COM Poll. It's halfway down the right side of our home page, but we're having technical issues with it we're working to resolve. Our apologies.

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Oregon Marine Board news release Monday:

The Oregon State Marine Board is bringing forward two bills during the 2017 Legislative session that are the culmination of more than four years of work with external advisors to address the needs of nonmotorized boaters and loopholes in the aquatic invasive species prevention permit program. 

House Bill 2320, establishes a nonmotorized boating program and a dedicated fund that provides grants to assist public agencies with the purchase, construction, renovation expansion or development of nonmotorized boating facilities. The program helps fund contracts for marine patrols in areas with significant nonmotorized use and helps pay for the removal of obstructions that are deemed a hazard to navigation. The program sets minimum standards for voluntary boating safety courses as well as provide grants and incentives to partners to carry out voluntary education. 

The bill defines "nonmotorized craft," as an object, not propelled by machinery or defined as a boat, capable of supporting a person in the water. Inner tubes, air mattress and other pool toys are not designed for use on rivers and streams, cannot maneuver away from dangers, puncture easily and can quickly be swept away if the operator falls out. This bill requires life jacket wear as defined by the Board in rule, for people in "nonmotorized craft" on all rivers and streams but is not required on lakes, reservoirs or designated swim areas. 
Failure to wear a life jacket on these craft could lead to a maximum $30 fine. Since "nonmotorized craft" are not boats, operators would not be required to purchase a nonmotorized AIS permit. The bill does not change the current life jacket requirements on boats (kayaks, canoes, stand up paddleboards). 

House Bill 2321 expands regulations to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species and removes the exemption from the AIS permit for boats under 10 feet. The bill requires boaters to drain standing water after a boat is removed from a waterbody and before the boat is transported away from the boat launch, by opening all drain plugs, bailers, valves or other devices used to control draining water from ballast tanks, bilges, livewells and motorwells. The penalty for failure to comply is a Class D violation with a presumptive fine of $30 for nonmotorized boats and $50 fine for motorized boats. 

This bill requires a person transporting a boat to return to an inspection station if stopped by law enforcement for bypassing a mandatory inspection station, provided the station is open and within five miles of the location of the stop. Failure to return to the inspection station is a Class C misdemeanor, with a maximum $1,250 fine. 

Under both bills, a boater would be required to purchase and carry a single permit with the fees being split into two dedicated accounts. The permit would remain transferrable to other paddlecraft and would be required for boaters 14 years old and older. House Bill 2320 proposes the following fees: 

$5 weekly permit ($4 would go into a non-motorized boating fund, and $1 would go into the AIS fund); 
$17 for an annual permit ($12 into a non-motorized fund and $5 into the AIS fund), 
$30 for a two year permit ($20 into a non-motorized fund and $10 into the AIS fund), and; 
Fees would be established at a reduced rate for livery operators. 

HB 2320 was the result of the agency's 2011-2016 strategic planning process, and evolved into an external advisory committee comprised of nonmotorized boaters, livery owners, and marine law enforcement with careful consideration with the ultimate goal of improved access, education and safety while reducing conflict. 

HB 2321 was the result of work with the Oregon Invasive Species Council and feedback from law enforcement officers regarding enforcement of the AIS inspection laws. 

To view the agency's one-page bill summaries, visit http://www.oregon.gov/OSMB/info/Pages/Agency-Bills-for-2017.aspx.


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