A Message from the US Coast Guard Siuslaw Station
The Pacific Northwest coastal estuaries boast vast recreational appeal that attracts thousands of people annually. Whether they are power driven boaters striking off in search of fish or paddlers venturing out to view its scenic beauty, boaters who are not familiar with the areas inherent dangers and challenges can quickly find themselves in extreme danger. Nature’s forces, where river meets ocean, change constantly and both paddle craft and power boat operators are extremely vulnerable.
Many boating accidents and fatalities are attributed, at least in part, to hazardous coastal bar conditions. A federal law was enacted in the early 1970’s establishing the ocean entrances to northwest rivers and bays as Regulated Boating Areas under the National Boating Safety Act. This law gives the Coast Guard the authority to suspend or terminate the voyage of recreational vessels and certain passenger vessels that attempt to operate in these areas when hazardous or unsafe conditions exist. Failure to comply can result in a $1000 civil penalty.
When imposing restrictions, the Coast Guard first evaluates the conditions on the bar. Restrictions are then based on the type and size of vessel and the following criteria: Wave height four feet or greater, or Wave height is greater than the length of the boat divided by 10 plus the freeboard, or The surface current is four knots or greater. These conditions are the minimum criteria for what is considered unsafe or hazardous conditions.
So how do you know when hazardous bar conditions exist? There are several methods available where the boating public can get notifications of current bar restrictions. The Local Coast Guard Commander will make safety broadcasts on channel 16 VHF/FM when bar crossing restrictions are imposed, indicating what size boats are restricted. The Coast Guard also provides bar condition reports and updates to the local area through a radio broadcast on channel 1610 AM. This information can also be accessed by telephone by calling (541)997-2486. In addition, there are visual warnings at the Port of Siuslaw boat launch ramp from signs indicating that when the amber lights are flashing that bar restrictions have been implemented. There is an additional warning sign located on the Coast Guard Watch Tower structure with amber flashing lights on a “Rough Bar” warning sign. When these signals are illuminated, boaters should take necessary steps to learn what hazards exist.
The regulated area is not just the jetty tips, it can be many hundreds of yards up river and extended for miles north, south and seaward of the jetties.
Before you go: Check your local weather reports to see if advisories have been issued for rough bar conditions. If the amber lights are energized on the “Rough Bar Warning Signs” tune your radio to 1610 AM or contact your local Coast Guard Station for information on restrictions and weather warnings. This can be done by phone at (541) 997-2486 or on Channel 16 VHF/FM. Contact the local Coast Guard Station and learn where the regulated boating areas are located. While underway, monitor channel 16 on your VHF radio for safety information broadcasts for rough bar conditions. Familiarize yourself with the information in the United States Coast Pilot, a navigation publication which describes each area. A safe trip begins with assessing conditions and planning your trip, including the return. Data from a wide array of sources: buoys, NOAA forecasts, locals, previous trip reports, bar condition reports and charts are starting points as the prudent mariner does not rely on a single source of information. And don’t forget to wear your life jacket.