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Water safety warnings abound.

Byline: Emily Smith The Register-Guard

If you're floating on the McKenzie River in a raft, you're going to need a life jacket. Consider yourself warned.

Many rafters don't know that state law puts rafts in the same category as boats and requires that the vessel carry enough life jackets for all passengers, said Sgt. Jon Bock, a marine patrol officer of Lane County Sheriff's Office.

Bock

and deputy DJ Mann said they expected to see heavy traffic on the river Friday as they launched their boat from Armitage Park in the late morning. And, with clear skies, warm weather and the start of a three-day weekend, their expectation was fulfilled, with the number of people on the water increasing throughout the day.

Those who frequent the river usually know the rules, Bock said, because they've likely encountered marine patrol before.

The marine patrol unit, funded by the Oregon State Marine Board, surveys public bodies of water, focusing on education and law enforcement.

If you haven't come across them yet, chances are you will, Bock said.

Five men lounging on two rafts in the river had their chance Friday.

Mann and Bock tried to determine from afar whether any life jackets were aboard the rafts. As they passed, they could see there weren't.

They asked the men to bank. Before paddling to shore, the men quickly flipped an ice chest upside down, letting their beer float downstream.

While drinking on the water is legal, impaired boaters and swimmers are a major risk, officers said.

Once the patrol unit anchored, the citation routine began.

"This is a dangerous river, gentlemen," Bock told the rafters.

"Really?" one asked. "It looks calm," he observed.

Bock and Mann wrote each of the rafters a citation of $242 for not having a life jacket. As two women floated past on a raft, they waved their life jackets in the air.

"Next time you see us," one of the men said, "we'll be holding those up."

The next citation recipient that day was not so understanding.

A raft with three people and two Pomerarians - both dogs wearing flotation vests - was the next target of marine patrol education Friday.

While the rafters were carrying flotation devices, they weren't life jackets. The floating seat cushions aboard the raft wouldn't help them through the rapids, Bock said.

After writing another citation Bock and Mann continued upstream, their backs to the rafters. The just-cited Harrisburg man on the raft made an obscene gesture in their direction.

Most people who receive a citation react in one of two ways, Mann said: They either grin and bear it or they don't.

But it won't be long, marine patrol officers expect, before river-goers know the law.

"By the end of July, they pretty much get the message because we're out here so much," he said. "But in the beginning of July, it's angry people."

Most frustrating for the patrol officers, Bock said, is seeing people in dangerous situations that a few precautions could have prevented.

"Ninety-five percent of drownings are preventable," he said.

But in a river that switches from 6 inches deep to 25 feet in a short distance, swimmers don't realize the potential for danger, he said.

Add alcohol to the situation and the risks increase exponentially.

Bock said people often underestimate how the sun, wind, motion and cold water will affect them, which is why he urges people to play on the water first and drink on land later.

Otherwise, he said, "It's a deadly combination."
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Title Annotation:City/Region; Sheriff's deputies patrol the river to inform boat and float enthusiasts that life jackets are required
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 4, 2009
Words:585
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