Coastal River Bars
The coastal bar is the area where the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean meet the shallower waters near the mouth of a river. Crossing a coastal bar from a bay to the ocean always requires extreme caution. Most accidents and deaths that occur on coastal bars are from capsizing.
Regulated Navigation Areas
Because of the risks involved in crossing bars, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has established Regulated Navigation Areas on all coastal river bars along the coasts of Oregon and Washington. These areas are listed in 33 CFR 165.1325(a) in the Code of Federal Regulations.
- Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations also gives the USCG the authority to restrict any recreational and uninspected passenger vessels from crossing a bar when hazardous conditions exist.
- Failing to comply with a posted bar restriction may result in a civil penalty of up to $25,000.
Coastal Bar Warning Signs
Two different styles of warning signs are used to indicate when bar restrictions are in effect. When the alternating amber lights are flashing on a warning sign, hazardous conditions are present, and a restriction from crossing the bar has been placed on recreational and uninspected passenger vessels. Boaters should check on the restriction information to see whether it affects their vessel.
Bar Conditions and Observation Reports
All boaters are reminded that safe navigation is the responsibility of each vessel operator.
- When the amber lights on a warning sign are flashing, boaters must obey the restriction information.
- It is the vessel operator’s responsibility to find out whether hazardous conditions exist and bar restrictions are in place prior to getting underway.
- The USCG broadcasts marine information on VHF-FM channel 16 when hazardous bar conditions and restrictions are put into place or are lifted. Boaters are strongly encouraged to monitor channel 16 for all notices and weather updates.
- Radio station 1610 AM provides a continual broadcast that gives bar conditions, bar restrictions, and the local weather. This broadcast is audible within a four-mile radius from the USCG Station.
- Current bar conditions and restrictions for Oregon are also available on the NOAA Local Bar Observations website.
- The information provided reflects conditions at the time the coastal bar was observed and may not reflect current conditions.
- Bar conditions are subject to change without notice.
- A report should NOT be used as the sole source of information when making a decision about crossing a bar.
- Boaters are advised to use all means available to safely re-evaluate bar conditions and risks before crossing any bar.
Take these additional precautions to reduce your risks.
- Always wear your life jacket when crossing a bar!
- Never operate an overloaded boat. Make sure to load your boat evenly, and have passengers sit or lie down in the center of the boat to improve stability.
- Avoid crossing the bar on an outgoing tide even on days with relatively calm waters.
- Be aware that boats are more likely to capsize when crossing the bar from the ocean because the seas are on the stern and the boater may have less control over the vessel. When coming in, make sure to keep the boat square before the waves and keep the boat on the back of the swell, riding it to stay clear of the following wave.
- Do not allow the waves to catch your boat on the side (beam). It can easily result in capsizing.