Save a fine, and a life, when on the water

I was in Justice Court in Central Point recently for a couple traffic trials. During the time I was in court, I sat through the two trials preceding mine, both of which involved one of our marine deputies who had cited a couple people for failure to have life preservers (a.k.a, personal flotation devices.)

In each case the comment was "I didn't see any signs or didn't know I had to have them." What follows is a letter that Justice Joe Charter is sending out to many local boating retailers that eloquently states it as well as I could have tried to write it:

Dear Supporter of Safe Boating:

Every year, beginning in the spring, the Jackson County Justice Court hears from citizens who have been ticketed for being on one of the area lakes without adequate Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs).

Their frustration is often stated as: "It was a beautiful sunny day and I had just bought a raft or Tahiti and taken it out on the lake. There were no signs posted and I just didn't know that PFDs were required for a blow-up boat. It just isn't fair that I should have to pay a $242 ticket, especially when there were swimmers around on air mattresses and inner tubes with no life jackets."

The answer from the court is often, "I'm sorry, but that is what the law requires and ignorance of the law is no excuse or defense."

On Page 29 of the Oregon State Marine Board's Course on Responsible Boating, there is information on PFD's. Type I, II or III U.S. Coast Guard approved PFDs must be carried for each passenger, and must be worn by children 12 years old or younger. Swim aids or "learn to swim" suits for children are not sufficient.

Under the terms of grants provided by the Marine Board to local law enforcement, officers have no discretion not to issue a citation. If you have contact with persons who are purchasing boating equipment, please post the enclosed to help them remain safe on the water and avoid an expensive lesson.


Joseph Charter,

Jackson County Justice of the Peace

Dace Cochran, a patrol sergeant with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, writes a weekly Q&A column on police issues for the Mail Tribune. Have a question for him? Write to Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501, or e-mail

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