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Columbia boaters face new distress rules

Oregon boaters in the lower Columbia River will have to start carrying U.S. Coast Guard-approved visual distress signals under a new proposed marine rule meant to shore up holes in on-the-water regulations.

The Oregon State Marine Board has proposed the change so lower Columbia boaters follow the same distress-signal rules that apply on the open sea.

"We're fixing up the rules," Marine Board spokeswoman Ashley Massey says. "It's one of those things that's been overlooked for a long time."

Under the proposed wording, the only application would be on the lower Columbia from the Astoria-Megler Bridge to the bar, Massey says.

If approved, boaters there would have to carry either pyrotechnic or non-pyrotechnic distress signals, meaning the approved equipment could run the gamut from smoking flares to lights, she says.

The equipment change would not apply to boaters and anglers fishing estuaries such as the lower Rogue or Winchester bays. However, as soon as those boats venture past the jetty tips, the Coast Guard rules kick in.

Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until 5 p.m. March 31.

Written comments can be emailed to osmb.rulemaking@state.or.us<mailto:osmb.rulemaking@state.or.us> or by conventional mail to: June LeTarte, Administrative Rules Coordinator, 435 Commercial Street NE, Suite 400, P.O. Box 14145, Salem, OR 97309-5056.

Comments via telephone will not be accepted.

Last weekend of dry-dock inspections

Jackson County Sheriff's marine deputies this weekend will hold the second of two annual dry-dock inspections to give boaters the chance to have their powerboats and driftboats checked for the requisite safety gear.

The free inspections will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Jackson County Marine headquarters, 620 Antelope Road, White City.

The inspections give fishing guides and other boaters a chance to have their crafts' safety features verified with the boat on the trailer instead of during an inspection by police on a river or lake this summer.

The dry-dock inspections typically draw from 300 to 500 boats.

Different safety requirements apply to different-sized boats and motors. For details about what safety equipment is required for your boat, see www.oregon.gov/osmb/boatlaws/pages/requirements.aspx.

Sheriff's deputies generally conduct more than 4,000 boat inspections annually. Those who pass during the dry-dock checks this year will get a green transom sticker that signifies the boat has been checked. Boats with the stickers generally are not stopped for inspections while on area rivers and lakes, but it does not render them immune to future inspections.

Boaters whose crafts fail the dry-dock inspections are told what items they need — such as better life jackets or a new state registration. An encounter on the Rogue River or a local lake without the requisite gear could lead to a citation.

Representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary will be present to conduct inspections on boats used in coastal waters. Boats will be checked also for invasive species, such as grasses, mosses and zebra mussels.

It is illegal in Oregon to launch a boat with any aquatic species on it. At the inspections, marine deputies will pass out literature about the inspection program and the dangers of invasives.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.