April 24, 2003 11:00 pm
READY TO TEST SPRING WATERS: Union County Marine Patrol Deputy Roger Cochran, right, talks with Mike Mills of La Grande during an inspection of his boat on Saturday.  (Observer photos/DICK MASON).
READY TO TEST SPRING WATERS: Union County Marine Patrol Deputy Roger Cochran, right, talks with Mike Mills of La Grande during an inspection of his boat on Saturday. (Observer photos/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Roger Cochran, Union County's marine patrol deputy, could fill much of Thief Valley Reservoir with the number of boats he has inspected this spring.

Cochran has examined 50 recreational boats as part of a safety inspection program at various sites.

On Saturday Cochran was anchored at the Bi-Mart parking lot for six hours, during which time he examined 30 boats.

Conducting the inspections is a time-consuming but fulfilling part of Cochran's job. The personable marine patrol deputy is at ease mingling with people and discussing a subject he is passionate about — boating safety.

"I enjoy meeting people. Most folks are up and want to do it right. I very seldom run into people who are difficult,'' Cochran said.

Most inspections take less than 10 minutes and involve about a half-dozen checks depending on the type of boat.

Sparks can fly

All boats with enclosed inboard engines are checked for spark suppressors and exhaust ventilation fans. Fires can start in enclosed inboard engines if these are not present.

Cochran sometimes finds that people have replaced their spark suppressor with an air filter that has a more flashy look. The mistake is understandable because spark suppressors resemble air filters. The people who do this tend to be those who recently purchased their first boat, Cochran said.

Boats are also checked for fire extinguishers. Cochran reads an indicator gauge on them to make sure they are still effective.

During inspections Cochran always examines the hull number of each boat to make sure it was not stolen. Cochran becomes suspicious if it is apparent that the hull number has been altered, or if the number does not match the range usually given to the boat type.

In past years inspections have turned up boats that had been stolen, unbeknownst to their operator.

"They get upset,'' Cochran said.

Boat theft is a major problem in Oregon, with more than 100 boats stolen each year, Cochran said. Most of the thefts are in Western Oregon.

Infinite value

Of the safety items Cochran checks, none are more critical than life preservers. The marine patrol deputy checks not only to see that life preservers are present but also that they are in good condition.

Life preservers that are oil soaked or have worn straps may not be effective in an emergency. For example, the worn strap of a life preserver might break in an impact situation in which someone is thrown into the water.

Cochran does not believe that people fully appreciate the importance of life preservers.

"A lot of people think they can swim but if they are thrown into a river with a good current they can't handle it. It is one thing to swim in a pool, it is a whole different story to be tossed into 55 degree water,'' he said.

Owners of boats that pass inspection receive a decal indicating that their craft has met standards for this year.

However, this doesn't mean that boat owners with current stickers can relax completely. Cochran asks all boaters he sees on the water to show him the number of life jackets they have on board. They must have at least one for each passenger or they can be cited. The life jackets have to be the proper size for the people on board. Large life jackets are dangerous for small children since they can cause a child to flip over.

Cochran believes the importance of boating safety cannot be underestimated. One reason is that someone hurt in a boating mishap is in a sense more at risk than someone hurt in an automobile accident.

Someone injured in a car accident and lying along the road at least has a chance of being rescued. Individuals tossed into water often do not have such hope.

"If you go into water your chances of living are severely diminished,'' Cochran said.

Boaters who do not have their craft inspected annually will not be cited. However, if they are found later on in the water to be deficient of safety equipment they will be cited.

People can bring their boats to the Union County Sheriff's office on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for safety inspections. Boat owners should call 963-1017 to make sure that someone is available to conduct the the inspection.