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New whitewater rule will require life jackets be worn

The Oregon State Marine Board is taking public comment on proposed rules that will require boaters to wear personal-flotation devices when navigating rapids classified as Class III or higher.

The Marine Board is putting the final touches on the rules, which became necessary when the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2079, which set the life-jacket requirements.

The new rule is similar to existing life-jacket laws for river guides and their passengers.

The new rule goes into effect Jan. 1.

The Marine Board now is seeking to clarify which jackets must be worn, agency spokeswoman Ashley Massey says.

The Legislature required life jackets, but did not specify which ones, says Sgt. Tom Turk of the Jackson County Marine Patrol.

The current rule proposal calls for Type I, III and V jackets, Turk says. Those are the same categories of jackets that meet current laws, which require adults to have a proper and fitting life jacket accessible — though not necessarily worn — while rafting, kayaking or driftboating, Turk says.

"We certainly recommend that people wear their life jackets at all times," Turk says. "At this point, though, any life jacket's better than no life jacket."

The new requirements won't mean much in Jackson County, Turk says.

The county's stretch of the Rogue contains no rapids classified as Class III or higher, though the degree of difficulty of a rapid can change dramatically based on water flows, Turk says.

The closest is Rattlesnake Rapid on the Rogue between Dodge Bridge and TouVelle State Park. That rapid, Turk says, is classified as a Class II.

The rule would come into play regularly along the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue, which contains several rapids rated as Class III or IV.

Massey says marine-patrol deputies across Oregon plan to put together a list of the effected rapids. The Marine Board plans to post a list of those rapids on its Web site at www.boatoregon.com as soon as they are available, she says.

"It's a work in progress at this point," Massey says.

Turk says the bill was pushed by Wasco County marine deputies after a series of whitewater fatalities on the Deschutes River.

The Marine Board will accept written comments on the proposal until 5 p.m. Nov. 30.

Comments may be mailed to June LeTarte, OSMB, P.O. Box 14145, Salem, OR 97309.

Written comments may be sent by fax to 503-378-4597 or by e-mail to osmb.rulemaking@state.or.us.

Comments left by telephone will not be accepted, Massey says.

The Oregon State Marine Board also is one step away from making the Forest Service's vision for Waldo Lake a reality.

The Marine Board is taking public comment on a proposed rule to ban motorboats and float planes from Waldo Lake, making the 6,298-acre lake into Oregon's largest gas motor-free lake.

If adopted, the rule would ban all motorized boating and also the take-off and landing of float planes. Sailboats with auxiliary motors also would be prohibited.

The only non-human propelling allowed would be electric motors.

The state law now in effect that limits all boat speeds to 10 mph or less will remain, according to the Marine Board.

Waldo Lake is in eastern Lane County along the Cascade Mountains crest at 5,414 feet above sea level.

The Marine Board has planned public meetings on the issue at 6 p.m. Monday at the Lane County Public Works Office in Eugene and at 6 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Bend Fire and Rescue Training Center in Bend.

Written comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. Dec. 15.

Comments can be mailed to June LeTarte, OSMB, P.O. Box 14145, Salem, OR 97309. Comments can be faxed to 503-378-4597 or sent by e-mail to osmb.rulemaking@state.or.us.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.