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File photo / Mail Tribune
Winter steelhead fishermen side drift roe and yarn balls through the Rogue Canyon near the Grave Creek boat ramp.

‘Operation Ship Shape’ targets unlicensed powerboats

Oregon boaters who have let their boat registrations lapse — sometimes for years — while still using their crafts on Oregon waterways better get into compliance fast or face big fines.

Marine deputies in Southern Oregon and across the state will be cracking down on unlicensed powerboats whose owners financially stiff the Oregon State Marine Board yet still use boat ramps, floating toilets, marine law enforcement and rescue services.

The Marine Board’s marine deputies will be out in force Aug. 4-5 seeking unlicensed powerboats to either nudge the owners into compliance with warnings or issue $265 tickets under the agency's so-called “Operation Ship Shape” program.

The program comes as marine deputies in all 32 Oregon counties that contract with the Marine Board for law enforcement are reporting unusually high numbers of unregistered boats in use.

“They’re using the resources, they’re using the boat launches, they’re using the law enforcement,” said Randy Henry, the Marine Board’s boating-safety program manager. “They need to be engaged, too.”

Since Jan. 1, marine deputies have issued 590 citations or warnings statewide for lapsed boat registrations, the bulk of them coming since Memorial Day, Marine Board spokeswoman Ashley Massey says.

Many owners are way out of compliance with expired decals dating back several years or more.

Locally, Jackson County marine-patrol deputies regularly see powerboaters with expired license stickers on their hulls.

“We get, probably, four or five fix-it tickets a weekend,” said marine patrol Sgt. Shawn Richards of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.

A fix-it ticket cites the offender into Jackson County Justice Court, where Judge Joe Charter said he dismisses the tickets once operators prove they have made good with the Marine Board.

Another option is citing the operator for a lapsed registration, which carries a $265 fine, and that money does not go to the Marine Board.

“We figure it’s better to give them a chance to register,” Richards said. “It’s a win-win if they register.”

Henry said it will be up to the discretion of marine deputies on enforcement decisions during Operation Ship Shape, but he wants deputies to at least log the numbers of unregistered powerboats to get some baseline data on the problem.

Henry said it was unclear how much money the Marine Board loses annually to lapsed registrations.

Agency statistics show that 21,891 boat registrations up for two-year renewal on Dec. 31, 2017, were not renewed. Another 17,488 boat registrations due Dec. 31, 2016, also were not renewed.

It is only a violation if boaters use an unregistered powerboat with an engine, including driftboats and sailboats under operation with outboard motors. It is not a violation simply not to renew the two-year registration.

The Marine Board’s roughly $16.5 million annual budget is paid through registrations, marine fuel taxes and registration fees by motorized boaters, while nonmotorized boats are not registered but their operator must carry a transferable $5 invasive-species prevention permit.

Motorboat registrations are $4.50 per foot, plus the $5 invasive-species permit. For instance, registering a 16-foot boat costs $77 every two years under the current fee scale.

Registrations can be renewed online at www.boatoregon.com/store or at registered agent stores. Boaters can print a temporary permit and immediately use their boat legally until their decal arrives.

“There are no good excuses not to re-register your boat,” Henry said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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