Gary A. Warner
The Bulletin

Waterway Access Permits


Individual permits:

2-year permit: $30

1-year permit: $17

1-week permit: $5

Multiple-watercraft operations:

1-year, 6-10 boats: $90 flat fee

1-year, 11-20 boats: $165 flat fee

1-year, 21+ boats: $300 flat fee

Who must pay: Anyone 15-years or older operating a nonmotorized watercraft that is 10 feet long or longer and sailboats 12 feet long and longer

Who is exempt: Children through age 14

Multiple watercraft owners: The permit is transferable to other watercraft. One permit is required per craft on the water.

How to get permits: Before the effective date of the law in January 2020, the Oregon State Marine Board plans to sell permits through its online store ( Marine Board dealers, Fish and Wildlife point of sale agents and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s online licensing website will also offer the permits.

Format for permits: Print out a paper permit or display the permit on mobile devices.

Fine for violation: $115

SALEM — A new watercraft permit approved by the Legislature is causing confusion in the capital and among users of Oregon’s lakes, rivers and reservoirs.

Senate Bill 47 creates a Waterways Access Permit that will be required for all watercraft more than 10 feet long when the law goes into effect next year. The Senate on Thursday voted 17-11 to approve a revised bill including technical amendments added by the House. It goes to Gov. Kate Brown. Because her office requested the bill, she is expected to sign it into law.

The law would go into effect Jan. 1, but no citations would be written for violations until August 2020, after a program to spread the word around the state about the changes.

The state may need that time to clear up lingering uncertainty over who is and isn’t affected by the law. The permit was characterized as a new fee on the floor of the House and in recent news reports.

Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, voted against the bill in the House, saying it is adding kayakers and paddleboarders to a new fee program that wasn’t required before.

“Kayaks and paddleboards are now in there,” Helt said. “Every kid over 14 years old has to carry a permit with them. How do you do that while paddleboarding? I think this is a ridiculous bill for Bend. It seems like there is not a lot of clarity.”

But the Oregon State Marine Board argues the permit doesn’t add any watercraft that weren’t covered under the old permit.

“For the last 10 years, any kayaks or paddleboards 10 feet long or longer have been required to purchase and carry an Aquatic Invasive Species permit,” said Ashley Massey, the board’s legislative coordinator.

So, is this something new? Or an old mandate with a twist?

“Yes and yes,” said Topher Robinson, programs director for Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe in Bend.

“The new permit replaces the Aquatic Invasive Species permit. But a lot of people don’t know they needed that permit.”

Jayson Bowerman, vice chairman of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, a recreational advocacy group, agreed.

“I think understanding of the issue is kind of lacking,” he said. “That’s somewhat a result of the way the Oregon State Marine Board conducts business. There’s not enough education and outreach. People may not be aware this state mandate is there.”

Brown’s office requested the bill before the beginning of the 2019 session of the Legislature. It creates a Waterway Access Fund with the new Waterways Access Permit, which replaces the existing Aquatic Invasive Species Permit. The new permit includes an increase in fees and a broader use of the revenue it creates.

One-third of revenue from fees would go toward the Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Fund Account. The other two-thirds of the fees would be used for grants to state, local and tribal governments, along with park organizations, to acquire property, leases or easements to improve waterway access. Fees could be used for construction and maintenance of docks, ramps and other facilities. Public agencies and nonprofits could receive funds to develop water safety educational courses and purchase boating equipment that could be used by people with disabilities.

Among the specific projects listed for improvements are two in Deschutes County. The fees would go for better waterside access and put-in facilities at the Bend Whitewater Park/McKay Park. La Pine State Park, on the Deschutes River, would get improvements including replacing the boat ramp, creating parking spaces, adding a vault toilet, improving stormwater drainage and restoring animal habitat areas.

Massey said the Oregon State Marine Board has worked with recreational waterway users to shape the new fund and permit.

“This bill has wide support from paddling groups, organizations and clubs and will enable the Marine Board to help develop access … and improve safety at existing launch sites,” she said.

Robinson, with Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, agreed that many waterway user groups supported the new permit. He said it will improve facilities that are aged and damaged, such as launch sites with cracked concrete and exposed rebar. With the rapid growth of users of waterways in the Bend area, enforcement is also needed.

“I think the increased funding will hopefully create a more responsible user group,” Robinson said. “It will help mitigate what’s happened with more people out on the water. More funding for enforcement would help with problems like drinking, litter and unsafe practices.”

The Oregon State Marine Board contracts with 32county sheriff’s offices and Oregon State Police to enforce marine laws. The assigned deputies and troopers are trained on enforcing compliance with permits.

The state knows there will be a learning curve for waterway users about the permit and will phase-in penalties.

“There will be a warning period — generally the first year — as we do outreach and education before law enforcement begins issuing citations,” Massey said.

Bowerman, with Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, said improved education needs to come before stronger enforcement.

“For some people, it may be hard to get behind this when you don’t know where the money goes,” he said. “If you just get hassles for not having a sticker or a permit and don’t know why, people won’t support it.”

Bowerman said the alliance was ready to do its part in getting the word out.

“We are for anything that enhances the quality of water on the Deschutes River and improves recreational enjoyment,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750,