Deputies sound alarm over derelict boats on Willamette River

SALEM, Ore. - David Zahn and Garrett Olson with the Marion County Sheriff's Office know this section of the Willamette River well.

This day they're not out doing the usual boating safety inspections: they're out looking for a new type of danger on - and under - the water.

Deputies report an increase in derelict boats, unwanted vessels dumped in the river instead of the junkyard.

Ont his day, they found an orange boat upsidedown and underwater in the river.

"It likely ran into something when it was called in the first time it was floating," Zahn said. "Rafters come up on it and can't get away from it. You get it stuck in a narrow channel, for the bigger boats now it's a hazard for us to go around it."

They can be hard to spot, posing a big threat to other boaters. It's also a big drain on limited resources.

"Now you got fire units coming out you got state police and sheriff's office all responding to this incident," Zahn said.

Deputy Zahn says they have to assume the worst and treat these as boating accidents, that means a lengthy search for anyone who could have gone overboard.

"We'll come up on it see if there's any floating debris. We'll have guys go to ramps looking for trailers to see if there's someone still out on the water. It takes a couple hours doing that," Zahn said.

Then there's the cost of getting it out, that's not easy, and they'll have to wait a few more weeks for the water level to come down.

But Zahn says they have ways of tracking down the owners. If they catch them, it's more than just a slap on the wrist, it's six months in jail or a $2,500 fine.