Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hassled About PFD? - ask Randall

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!
Randall Barna


  1. While paddling around Cultus Lake this weekend I was stopped by the Deschutes County Sheriff patrol. He informed me that according to the Marine Board, a PFD must be carried on-board. No ticket was issued. I e-mailed the marine board and recieved this response:

    The deputy was quoting current Marine Board policy. Inland use (rivers and lakes), a PFD is required, however, in a coastal surf zone, no PFD required. This was decided in July due to increased use of surfboards on rivers. I invite you to submit your comments on this issue, as we understand that it may have to be modified. Thank you for the inquiry.

    Wm Rydblom
    Law Enforcement Program Administrator
    State Marine Board

    Jon Weishaupt, Bend

  2. Dumb rules require dumb responses. The rule says that if the board has a sial on it it is exempt. No reference to the size of the sail. I'm going to make a one inch sail for my boards.

    I recieved the following from the Marine board yesterday. I hope they do the right thing.


    Please be advised: The Marine Board has requested that the US Coast Guard make a determination as to whether a surfboard being paddled is considered a vessel (used for transportation on the water). We expect an answer in a couple of weeks. We will put out a news release and post the information on our web site.

    Wm Rydblom
    Law Enforcement Program Administrator
    State Marine Board

  4. I received an answer from the Marine Board today. It sounds ludicrous to me. Randall, any thoughts?

    Hello Jon,
    I'm replying on behalf of Bill Rydblom.

    The Coast Guard recently made a determination:

    "Based on the information available, the Coast Guard has determined that, when beyond the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing or bathing area, the device known as a "paddleboard" is a vessel under 46 U.S.C. 2101, and therefore subject to applicable regulations administered by the U.S. Coast Guard and its Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety, unless specificallly exempted."

    In essence, if the paddleboard is being used for transport on lakes, bays, or rivers, a PFD is required.

    Feel free to contact me or Bill if you have any further questions.


    Ashley A. Massey
    Public Affairs Specialist
    Oregon State Marine Board
    503-378-8587 ext. 82623

    Boating enlivens your senses!

  5. Good info. It's a new sport on inland waters, so hopefully the CG and paddlers will come to a rational agreement in time.

    See more on this at my surfing blog (Seattle based):