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The Marine Board also discusses risks related to cold water and recent deaths along Willamette, Columbia rivers.

COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON STATE MARINE BOARD - The Oregon State Marine Board recommends people boat only with their immediate family and those who they are living with during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Willamette River recreators might be wondering how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact boating season, Oregon State Marine Board personnel have a more pressing concern on their minds.

In recent weeks, two people have died along the Willamette River and the Columbia River after falling into frigid waterways.

"They weren't wearing life jackets and the water was too cold," Marine Board Public Information Officer Ashley Massey said.

According to Massey, cold water deaths often occur when someone falls into the water and a gasp reflex forces water into the lungs, thus causing the body to enter panic mode and malfunction. The two deceased individuals were in a kayak and canoe respectively.

"That's when most people in our waterways drown. It's not due to hypothermia. It's due to initial water shock," she said.

In turn, Massey simply recommends people wear life jackets and dress for the temperature of the water rather than the weather outside.

"That's (warmer clothes) what's going to help people survive any sudden immersion," she said.

Massey also recommends boaters place safety equipment on board and to try to stay low to the deck and in the center of the boat when the water is unstable to prevent them from falling overboard.

As for how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted local waterways, many of the boat launch facilities — which are often owned by city, county and other governmental agencies — are closed. For instance, the Memorial Park boat launch in Wilsonville, Boones Ferry Marina on the other side of the Willamette River from Wilsonville in Aurora, the Cedaroak Boat Ramp and Willamette Park Paddle Access area in West Linn, the Molalla River State Park boat launch, Clackamette Park boat ramp in Oregon City and Meldrum Bar Park boat launch in Gladstone are all closed.

However, John Storm Park Sportcraft Landing in Oregon City is open.

"I've only heard anecdotally that roughly 20% (of boat ramps in Oregon) are open at the city and county level. Some of those services vary," Massey said

As for tips to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the board implores boaters to recreate only with people they're living with, wear face coverings, not to veer too far away from home, maintain physical distancing at boat docks and in parking lots, and to stay home if you're sick and wash hands frequently.

"We would love to see more outdoor recreation but you have to assess your own personal situations and whether it's right to go now," Massey said.

Massey said boaters should also check online to see which boating launches are open.

Overall, Massey expressed uncertainty about how the boating season will be impacted overall by COVID-19 and about the Marine Board's tact in mitigating issues during the season's peak.

"No one wants a huge rush of people to hit any recreation points whether it's hiking, biking or boating," Massey said. "How do you open slowly, methodically, in a smart way that doesn't increase risk for people? That's a big question everyone is asking right now."

For more information about boating activity impacts, visit the website for the Oregon Marine Board.


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