Oregon River Guides Face Tougher Standards, New Insurance Requirements

By MARK FREEMAN, Mail Tribune | August 17, 2017

Here are your requirements to be a river guide in inland Oregon – a cardiopulmonary resuscitation certificate, liability insurance, the $150 annual fee and be a reasonably good citizen.

What you don’t need? A boat, knowledge of the river or even the ability to recognize the difference between a salmon and a bass.

For years, these relatively lax requirements left it up to would-be clients to find out for themselves whether the guide they hired was safe, boating-savvy and competent.

“You can say you’re a chef, too, but can you walk in and prove you’re a chef?” says Eagle Point guide Charlie Brown. “If you don’t know how to ask those questions, you never know what you’re going to get when you sign up for a guide.”

That’s about to change. Inland guides not governed by U.S. Coast Guard regulations are on the cusp of seeing new rules that would require them to prove they are fit, boating proficient, safe and not druggers.

Other provisions of the Oregon State Marine Board proposal include carrying requisite safety equipment, passing a boat operator’s exam if they work on Oregon waterways and recertifying themselves every five years.

Non-boating guides, such as hunting, mountain-biking or rock-climbing guides, also must pass fitness and drug tests and carry proper safety equipment and communication devices such as cellphones or location beacons.

Ordered to do so by the Oregon Legislature, the Marine Board proposed these changes for about 200 fishing guides who work only in Oregon rivers not deemed federally navigable, such as the upper Rogue River, according to the Marine Board.

It creates exemptions for about 950 guides with Coast Guard licenses who already are bound by similar rules and requirements to guide in the ocean, Oregon estuaries and federally deemed navigable rivers such as the Rogue downstream of Grants Pass, according to the Marine Board.

The boating requirements also cover about 200 licensed whitewater rafting guides, according to the Marine Board. About 200 more hunting guides will be covered under the non-boating requirements.

The draft rules are meant to bring inland guides not governed by Coast Guard restrictions closer to those standards.

“We’re trying to close that gap,” said Randy Henry, the Marine Board’s boating safety program manager.

“We don’t want to put good people out of work,” Henry said. “We’re focusing on public safety while raising the bar for guides and outfitters in Oregon as the Legislature asked.”

Brown, 46, who has worked as a whitewater and rock-climbing guide and has been a full-time fishing guide since 2009, said he believes river guides should be required to carry safety equipment.

“There are some safety aspects on the river that everybody should know,” said Brown, who does not have a Coast Guard license.

“I’m not a real regulations guy, but sometimes it does help,” Brown said.

The draft rules are in response to a 2013 law passed by the Legislature requiring that some form of these rules be in place by 2018.

The Marine Board is taking public comment on the draft, including a public meeting set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office SAR Station, 620 Antelope Road, White City.

Becoming certified through the Marine Board, however, does not allow fishing guides to run motors in estuaries and navigable rivers without a Coast Guard license, Henry said.

The proposed mandatory drug testing covers cocaine, amphetamines and opiates but not marijuana because it is legal in Oregon, Henry said. However, just as with alcohol use, guides can lose their license for working while impaired, he said.

Other provisions include requirements that guides report client injuries that require more than “minor first-aid,” though the draft does not define minor. It also would require reporting of any incident with damage to public or private property exceeding $500 and incidents of emergency responses.

The boating guides’ test, which remains in draft form, focuses on boat operation and safety and is “a step up” from the current exam required for all Oregonians to operate any boat using a motor of 10 horsepower or more, Henry said.

It does not, however, test for boating or angling proficiency, according to the draft rules, nor ask would-be guides to visually differentiate between a salmon and a bass.

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