There are so many resources available to begin acquiring some basic skills before heading out on the river! The Oregon State Marine Board has non-motorized boating and paddling information that even includes a free online safety course. It is a great place to start.
Emergency? Call 911
You will typically have cell service while traveling the Water Trail, so make sure your phone is accessible. Goal Zero and other brands make portable chargers that you might want to invest in to be able to charge your phone on an extended trip. Consider where you pack your phone. If you are separated from your boat, and your phone is packed in your boat… that may be a problem!
Marine Law Enforcement
If you see people and/or boaters acting in a dangerous manner contact the local county Marine Patrol office
Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
Like all rivers the Willamette River can be dangerous, especially to those unaware of potential hazards. First and foremost, you should always wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD, aka lifejacket). PFDs make all the difference – and whether you are a strong swimmer or not, without a life jacket, surviving a mishap and cold water can be quite difficult without one. Please consider suiting up your pup too! There are are number of PFDs for dogs of all sizes available at various retailers.
Wood is a chief hazard – typically logs, root wads and other wood extending from the shoreline or bobbing in the current. If you or your craft make contact with such debris, you can be stopped and pinned against the obstruction. In many cases it is very hard to free you or your craft from such debris. Always scan ahead and stay on the lookout, if you see what looks like “fun waves” to go through know that a change in the surface of the water on the Willamette it is most likely a wood obstruction. It is all about the relationship between where the current is headed, and a large root wad or log in the water. Your job is to see if the current is directed to feed you right into an obstruction, and if so, to understand how to maneuver your watercraft to avoid getting swept into one. Side channels often have persistent woody debris hazards, so if you take a side channel be prepared to deal with a blocked or partially blocked channel in current.
Do your research- you can review the Oregon State Marine Board’s website for “reported obstructions and hazards” for the Willamette in advance of your trip. You an also contact a local marine patrol unit or Willamette Riverkeeper to see if they have recent beta on the reach you plan to paddle. Of course rivers are constantly changing, so ultimately you are responsible for your our safety.
Would you like to report hazards you may see on the river that could cause problems for other users?
Check out the Boating Obstructions Reporting Tool user guide.
During much of the year the water can be cold, so wear the appropriate clothing and gear to stay warm and always carry an extra set of clothes in a dry bag to change into in case you have an unplanned swim.
In the summer months be sure to stay hydrated, and to bring plenty of drinking water. You can also pack along a water purifier as the Willamette’s water can be cold and delicious when filtered!