Illustration by Chelsea Lovejoy.

How To Be a Chill-Ass Jit Floating the Willamette River

Looking to cool off? Eugene Weekly breaks down how to float the river in a safe, fun and legal way this spring.

As a senior at the University of Oregon, spring only truly begins for me when I have my first float along the Willamette River. Nothing quite beats the combination of a lackadaisical float on the river while blasting the finest of ’70s soft rock.

But for the newbie, how does one float the river? And how do you do it safely? Eugene Weekly and the Oregon State Marine Board are here with answers.

The best float I can recommend to a first-time floater is to put in at the boat ramp under the Springfield Main Street Bridge, near Island Park, and to get out on the boat ramp by the Ruth Bascom Bike Path — next to Day Island Road — near Alton Baker Park and Autzen Stadium.

Of course getting home is as important as getting there, so take two cars to the end of the float, leave one behind and load everyone up in the second to be transported to the start.

Friends are good and all, but you’ll need a few supplies to float the river and to float it safely. Here’s what yours truly brings along on every river outing: a tube of melanoma-denying SPF 50 sunscreen (applied before getting in), pairs of UV-rated sunglasses, a Fox 40 whistle in my board shorts pocket, a wide brim straw hat to prevent rednecking, a single Bluetooth speaker playing Steely Dan’s “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” a pair of water shoes, a waterproof cigarette case, bottles of cold water and, last but not least, another bottle of not water.

For innertubers, lifejackets are required only if the single-person innertube is tied to another, or if that innertube has multiple air chambers. The Oregon State Marine Board highly recommends bringing a lifejacket plus a whistle for every floater, just in case your innertube implodes halfway down your float. You’ll want that whistle, trust me.

This happened to a buddy of mine after we failed to inflate his inner tube fully. Being dumb college students we paid it no mind until halfway down the river when he began to capsize and fall behind. Due to his weight pushing out all the air from his improperly sealed tube, inflating it was a nonstarter. 

After sinking fully just before some rapids, we bade farewell to the SS Edmund Fratzgerald before wading our way through shallower water to shore (bringing our deflated tubes and deflated spirits with us). We ended up walking the mile and a half to join up with the rest of our river crew.

“All rivers are inherently dangerous,” says Oregon State Marine Board public information officer Ashley Massey. Having a flotation device for each person is paramount to staying safe and having fun while doing so, especially because of how fickle single-person inner tubes can be. 

 Lane County Search and Rescue already fished out the year’s first water rescue at Lookout Point Lake on April 19. According to LCSO Sgt. Tim Wallace, the victim, who fell out of a kayak, could have been in more danger had they not brought along a life jacket.

While Massey says she doesn’t want to act like Big Brother, she wants all potential floaters to be safe on the water. “You want your wits about you on the water,” she says. “We strongly advocate leaving the alcohol on the shore.”

While I will not advocate one way or another for drinking on the water, the Marine Board and I are in agreement that you should probably drink plenty of water on your stroll down the liquid-laid road.

Floating the river is all fun and games until you miss your exit from the river by two miles. This is why having a well thought-out put-in and pull-out plan is important for knowing what’s next. Be sure that everyone knows where to get into the water, and, more important, where to get out.

In short, before you may or may not have a couple sobering sips of your beverage, be sure to: Be aware of your surroundings. Stay close with your group. Practice floating on your back unassisted with your feet pointed downstream. Coordinate rides to and from the float. Have fun.

Anyone who needs a lifejacket can pick one up at any local life jacket loaner station for free at Clearwater Park Boat Ramp, Dexter State Park, Lowell State Park and Fall Creek Recreation Area, among others. Find location by going to and clicking “life jackets.” Be sure to pay it forward and return them for future floaters!