Paddling Fatalities Trending Up: Preparation and Practice are Key

There have been five boating fatalities on Oregon’s waterways during COVID-19 this spring, all have two things in common: not wearing life jackets, and cold water. The Oregon State Marine Board is urging boaters headed to the water during the first warm weekend of the year – especially people in canoes, kayaks, and on stand-up paddleboards, to dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. The water is cold.

“We are concerned,” said Randy Henry, Boating Safety Program Manager for the Marine Board. “People are anxious to get out and have fun, but water is serious business. If you go boating, wear your life jacket, buckle it up, and make sure it’s a snug fit. Always dress appropriately, and if you’re paddling, dress for the water. A dunking this time of year can be deadly.”

The breakdown of the five boating fatalities: four of the five were not wearing life jackets. The other is unknown. Four of the victims were male and one female. Three were recreating in paddlecraft (kayaks and a canoe) and two were in motorboats. All of the victims fell overboard unexpectedly into cold water, which is trending unlike what the Marine Board has seen in past years.

This season, many people new to paddling or people who haven’t paddled in a while are strongly encouraged to take a free, online Paddling Course to learn about self-rescue, how to re-board your paddlecraft, important equipment/requirements and other safety skills to develop. Start out on calm, flat water, and slowly progress to other waterbodies as skills develop. There are also paddling clubs in many communities as well as online forums with local safety information.

Additionally, the agency has received many reports of debris and obstructions this spring, so all paddlers and motorboaters should be especially cautious, keeping a sharp lookout on all waterways and starting out slow. Visit the agency’s waterway obstruction page to learn where obstructions have been reported and recommendations on how to avoid them. Many obstructions cannot be immediately cleared.

The open/closed status of boating access changes frequently. The agency’s interactive Boat Oregon Map is a resource for finding facility contact information to help boaters with their planning and preparation. Remember to respect any closures, stay local, be self-contained, boat with members of your immediate household, and maintain physical distance for your own safety and for those around you.

For more Paddle Smart boating safety tips from the Marine Board and the U.S. Coast Guard, visit