SALEM - If you are 40 years old or younger and plan to operate a powerboat this year, make sure you have your boater education card.

"It's 2004 so the 40-and-younger age requirement is official," said Ashley Massey, boater education coordinator for the Oregon State Marine Board. "We have a number of classes statewide, so now is the time to take a course before the spring boating rush."

This is the second year of the Mandatory Boater Education law phase-in.

In 2005, the age requirement to carry a card will increase to 45 and younger. It will continue to increase until all boaters are included in 2009.

The law was passed by the 1999 Legislature with the goal of reducing accidents, injuries and fatalities on Oregon's increasingly crowded waterways. More than 66,000 Oregon boaters already have their card.

Classes are available in most counties statewide.

"This is prime time. Our partners are all offering classes from now through the spring. We have a full listing on our Web site at www.boatoregon.com, or you can call us at (503) 378-8587."

Internet courses also are offered by the Marine Board and are recommended for people who don't have nearby classes or can't fit one into their schedule.

Experienced boaters may opt for the equivalency exams offered by county marine officers. Whichever you choose, full information and links are available on the Marine Board Web site.

The number of recreational boating deaths was up slightly in 2003 over recent years, with 18 fatalities occurring on the state's waters, according to Marty Law, education program manager for the Oregon State Marine Board.

"One reason for the increase was the abundant salmon returns drawing many boaters to coastal waters. One third of our accidents occurred on the ocean or at coastal bars."

Of the 18 fatalities, 14 victims were not wearing life jackets.

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