Runaway boat lassoed by Portland Fire & Rescue

On the afternoon of May 17, Portland Fire & Rescue along with Multnomah County River Patrol and the United States Coast Guard Station Portland all responded to a water rescue near Cathedral Park boat ramp in North Portland. The initial call came in as a small unoccupied boat running circles in the river with a person in the water yelling for help.

Emergency crew vessels surrounding runaway boat
Emergency vessels surrounding runaway boat

On water rescues, dispatch will often contact multiple agencies. The first to arrive on a scene is able to confirm and update the call information as well as provide invaluable information on exact location as well as the resources needed for the emergency situation at hand. While enroute to the call there was confirmation that both Multnomah County River Patrol and a boat from the US Coast Guard Station Portland were underway to assist Portland Fireboat 6 with the call. 

Engine 22 from the nearby St. John’s Fire Station arrived first and was able to confirm that there was a small unoccupied boat spinning circles just upriver from the St. John’s Bridge and there was a person in the water near the boat. Fortunately, at about the same time as their arrival they reported that a Good Samaritan boater was rescuing the person in the water. The rescued boater was brought to the dock at Cathedral Park boat ramp and reported to Engine 22 that there was a full tank of fuel on the runaway vessel so it would be out there for quite some time unless responders were able to take control of the vessel and shut down the engine.

As is often the case when first responders arrive to a call, there was no playbook for how to deal with this emergency situation.  Fireboat 6 and the County River Patrol decided they would attempt to “lasso” the boat around the motor in an attempt to take control of the vessel and then pull it along-side, shut down the engine and tow it to the dock. After several attempts from both agencies, Portland Fire was finally successful in lassoing the runaway vessel. After shutting down the engine the boat was transferred to the Coast Guard, towed to the dock and reunited with the owner.

This was a 16’ vessel that had a tiller-driven outboard motor. The tiller provides both the throttle and the steerage for the vessel. The boater reported that he slipped while operating the tiller which caused both rapid acceleration and a sharp turn at the same time throwing him off balance and out of the boat. 

Portland Fire & Rescue would like to remind all boaters to use all safety equipment to help avoid situations such as a runaway vessel and to allow for the best outcome when this does occur. Remember to always wear a properly fitted USCG approved life vest, have a sound producing device on your vessel (preferably attached to your life vest so if you are thrown from the vessel you have the device with you), and if your boat motor is  equipped with an engine cut-off switch that you properly and securely attach the safety lanyard to yourself so the engine will automatically shutdown if you are accidentally thrown from the vessel or even just tossed away from the throttle and steering controls.

Contact Info:
For media inquiries, email: