I know spectators and those participants who weren’t able to compete are blaming the captain of the Spirit of Portland for the early closure of Red Bull’s Flugtag event in downtown Portland, but the fault doesn’t lie with him. The fault lies with Red Bull and the boaters who clogged the Willamette River and created a navigation nightmare for commercial vessels.
As the event organizer, Red Bull should have cordoned off the event area to ensure that boats could safely navigate the river. Red Bull allowed an unsafe situation to develop by allowing personal watercraft to totally take over the stretch of the Willamette River around the Hawthorne Bridge.
Most of the fault, however, lies with the boaters. Apparently they forgot Coast Guard rules or simply chose to ignore them. The Willamette River is classified a navigable river and must remain clear for commercial vessels to use. Granted the Willamette River doesn’t see the commercial traffic it once saw when barges were able to utilize the now closed locks at Willamette Falls. However, the Spirit of Portland and commercial jet boat operators use the river. The Spirit of Portland captain obviously felt he could not safely navigate the river. Had he hit one of the boaters, the boating community would have been outraged and would have called for the captain to be charged. It’s incumbent on boaters to understand rules of the waterways because it’s one of the requirements they must fulfill to receive their boater’s certification card. Paddlers, likewise, are not excused from following the rules simply because they are not required to go through the certification course.
While paddlers weren't at the root of the problem at Flugtag, paddlers did create a similar unsafe situation earlier this week during their protesting of the Fennica. While I don’t agree with Shell’s desire to drill in the Arctic Ocean, I take issue with how paddlers handled the situation. They created an unsafe situation by clogging the river under the St. John’s Bridge in an effort to impede the forward movement of the Fennica. Subsequently, we saw what happened when a sheriff’s boat accidentally ran over one of the kayaks. That kayaker could have been seriously injured, which fortunately was the case in this situation.
When paddlers create unsafe situations, it only flames the irritation motorized boaters have toward paddlers. Furthermore, it only supports motorized boaters’ calls that paddlers also be required to take a boater’s certification course. Currently it’s not required of paddlers to take the boater’s certification course, though the Oregon State Marine Board (OSMB) does offer a voluntary paddler certification course that I have taken and recommend. I would hate to see paddlers forced to take a boater’s certification course, because I fear it would curtail interest in paddling. Paddlers need to police themselves and help newer paddlers understand their role in ensuring a safe paddling experience. That is one of the missions of Canoe & Kayak Oregon.