Hi, I was paddling on the Nehalem River estuary the other day and imagine my suprise when the Tillamook County Sheriff stopped me and gave me a warning for not having an approved PFD and whistle (like I was a boat)! Do you guys have any experience or advise you'd like to share? I called the director at the State of Oregon for water activities law enforcement and he said there was a policy that seemed vague about requiring a PFD and whistle if I was in flat water, though not requiring them in a surf zone. I'm puzzled and irritated that I was singled out for this application of a silly rule (I don't see any adults wearing PFD's and whistles on your website. Is Dechutes County more enlightened than here on the coast?). I've been surfing in Oregon for 43 years and boating longer than that and this is the first I've heard about any rule or policy like this. Your comments please.
Regards, David, Manzanita, Oregon
Hi David, This subject is like de-ja-vu all over again. We went through the same thing in the 80's with windsurfing. We windsurfed for years without PFDs and then someone decided that they should be required so they started enforcing it. Finally enough windsurfers complained to the marine board and maybe even the legislature and they changed the rule. I believe it states that anything considered a water toy and that you are on top of, opposed to sitting within, is exempt from the PFD rule. In Bend there are thousands of people floating down the Deschutes through downtown and the Old Mill district. City buses shuttle them back to the start. If they're on an air mattress, PFDs aren't required. If they're in a $10 toy raft PFD is required. Inner tubes are another grey area since your butt is in, however, technically you're on top since it has no floor. In the old windsurfing days, the ironic thing with the old PFD law is that you didn't have to actually wear the PFD, you just needed to have one "on board". We would bungee cord a PFD to the nose and be legal, which was absolutely ridiculous!
Real safety is a concern but this PFD requirement gets into a human rights and freedom issue like requiring adults to wear bike helmets. This helmet issue recently came up and was proposed to go to the legislature and was immediately squashed by a huge outcry in objection.
This is my opinion on safety and the PFD issue:
1. PFDs should not be required on standup paddle boards. They should be treated the same as surfboards, windsurfers, air mats, etc.
2. In open water with current or wind use a leash. When wearing a leash you are always tethered to a personal flotation device, the board! Every board has way more flotation than any Coast Guard approved PFD.
3. Respect the elements and water, assume risk, and use good judgment. Regardless of flotation, sh-- happens!