For centuries, the Columbia River has been at the center of trade and transportation in the Pacific Northwest. By the 1850s, steamboats were moving goods along the Columbia and Snake rivers, but goods had to be offloaded and portaged — at Celilo Falls, on the middle Columbia, and at Cascade Rapids, between the middle and lower Columbia — by foot, wagon, and then by the Oregon Portage Railroad at Cascade Locks.

As railroads were extended along the Columbia in the 1860s and linked to networks throughout the region, steamboat transportation was superseded by a more efficient and economical railway system.

After an 1874 survey, Congress authorized work on the Cascades Canal, which finally opened in 1896. In 1915, The Dalles-Celilo Canal opened and the steamer Undine made the first continuous trip between Lewiston and Portland.

The Northern Pacific built a railroad ferry that connected the Port of Kalama on the Washington side to Goble Oregon, just east of Longview/Rainier.

The Goble train ferry began in 1884 and continued until 1908.The passenger service continued until 1934. The railroad steamer was brought out in 57,159 separate pieces from New York by the Tillie E. Starbuck, the first iron sailing vessel built in the United States, and reassembled in Portland.

Today, Columbia Bar Pilots bring large freighters across the treacherous Columbia River Bar while Columbia River Pilots take over in Astoria and guide ships up and down the Columbia.

There are 45 state-licensed Columbia river pilots. River pilots typically come from tugboats or similar backgrounds. New pilots go through a 2 1/2-year training program. There are close to 100 course changes from the mouth of the river to Port of Portland. The river pilots navigate ships to all ports upriver from Astoria to Longview, St Helens, Kalama, Portland and Vancouver. The Columbia and Willamette Rivers Pilotage is a 600-foot wide, 85-mile narrow channel. Panamax and Post-Panamax ships do not call here due to the 43 foot draft restriction of the channel.

The Columbia River/Snake River system is a 365-mile, inland barge system with 30 million tons of foreign trade and $20 billion in value each year. It’s the nation’s number one wheat export gateway, number two soybean export gateway, and number 3 grain export gateway in the world. The Port of Lewiston is the most inland seaport on the West Coast, located 465 river miles from the ocean.

Lower Columbia River Ports (below the I-5 bridge), include the Ports of Ilwaco, Chinook, Astoria, Longview, Kalama, Woodland, St. Helens, Ridgefield, Vancouver and Portland.

World Port Source has a history of Ports in Oregon and Ports in Washington.

Container barging on the Columbia and Snake river system forms the second largest river system in the U.S.

Public agencies and private companies have invested more than $1 billion in the lower Columbia River since it was deepened five years ago according to a study by the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent $180 million to deepen the 110-mile navigation channel from 40 to 43 feet. The dredging was finished in 2010. Nearly half of all US wheat exports use the Columbia River. Roughly 77 percent of the Port of Portland’s current business is related to movement of agricultural and mineral bulks.

The $230 million Export Grain Terminal at Longview was the first new grain export facility in North America in roughly 25 years. Other projects include $228 million to expand rail freight infrastructure at the Port of Vancouver, $100 million that Temco LLC spent to increase grain capacity and $140 million to improve potash exporter Canpotex’s shiploading efficiency at the Port of Portland. The system is slated for a 14-week closure beginning in December 2016 for lock maintenance.

The 43-foot deep river channel for ocean-going vessels extends 106 miles from the ocean to Portland and Vancouver, Washington. Shipping companies have to hire pilots and take the time to bring their vessels 100 miles up the Columbia River for relatively low container volumes, one pilot for the Columbia Bar and one for the Columbia River.

Tidewater Barge Lines handles grain, petroleum products, wood products, liquid and dry fertilizers, and all types of containerized freight. Oil goes upriver with empty grain barges.

Here’s a tour of the newest Tidewater tug, the Crown Point (Flickr slideshow). It’s one of three towboats that Tidewater is adding to its fleet of 16 vessels and 160 barges as part of its larger effort to move cargo along the Columbia and Snake rivers. Tidewater selected Portland-based Vigor Industrial to build the three new towboats.

Bob Curcio (in white) is Tidewater’s new president and CEO. Larry Bartel (in green) was one of two Captains who piloted the Crown Point through her sea trials.

Hanjin Shipping is the Port of Portland’s biggest trans-Pacific container carrier (about 80%), along with Hapag-Lloyd (about 20%) and Westwood Shipping Lines.

Hanjin’s ended direct service to the Port of Portland’s container terminal in February, 2015, with Hapag-Lloyd also stopping service a few weeks later, leaving the region without a direct link to Asian markets, creating a massive void for many businesses in the region.

The metro area probably sees about 2,000 more truck trips a day as a result of the shipping giants pulling out of Terminal 6, Oregon’s only international container port. South Korea-based carrier Hanjin (eliminating 80 percent of business), and German carrier Hapag-Lloyd (nearly all the remaining 20%).

A good portion of that freight is now moving over the Interstate Bridge using trucks, according to Susie Lahsene, the port’s senior manager of planning and policy. Master of the domain is port director Bill Wyatt.

Unionized grain handlers are going back to work at Northwest grain terminals including United Grain in Vancouver, Columbia Grain, at Portland’s terminal 5, Louis Dreyfus Commodities north of the Steel Bridge (by the Moda Center and Light Rail), and Temco, just north of the Broadway Bridge.

Container ships are used for the carriage of miscellaneous goods. Capacity is measured in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU). A bulker transports unpackaged bulk cargo, such as grains, coal, ore and cement. A tanker transports liquids in bulk. A gas tanker transports LPG, LNG or liquefied chemical gases in bulk. Roll-on/roll-off ships carry wheeled cargo, such as automobiles, trucks and railroad cars. The IBC Code provides an international standard for the safe carriage by sea of dangerous and noxious liquid chemicals in bulk.

Most of the boat ramps on Hayden Island are private. Multnomah County Marine Patrol and Clark Co Marine Patrol have jurisdiction along the County line in coordination with other agencies.

Upriver Ports — Distance from Portland

Each river pilot carries a laptop loaded with a tracking system to monitor ship traffic on the river. River pilots also meet with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at least once a month to review the agency’s monthly river surveys. They look for areas where sand and silt are building up and areas where maintenance dredging will be done.

The Portland Corps of Engineers keeps Oregon’s waterways safe and navigable through dredging sandbars and channel deepening, ensuring safe transport for more than $18 billion in waterborne commerce.


Columbia River surveys are channel-line and cross-line surveys of the Columbia from The Mouth of the Columbia to Vancouver Turning Basin. Channel-line surveys are survey lines which run parallel to the channel, 7 lines across, 150 feet apart.

Cross-line surveys are lines that run perpendicular to the channel, bank-to-bank and are generally 500 feet apart. features a webcam of the Columbia River, a weather page, and information regarding sailboat racing on the Columbia River.

Other sailing clubs include the Columbia River Yachting Association, Portland Yacht Club (on Marine Drive), Corinthian Yacht Club, Small Yacht Sailing Club of Oregon, Vancouver Lake Sailing Club, and Willamette Sailing Club, on the Willamette River, 5 minutes South of downtown Portland.

Marine News

Marine businesses and vessel info.

Boating and Sailing Clubs:

Marine Patrols:

Port Links:

Columbia River Ports

Area Rivers

Wheat and Trade


Unions and Management

NEXT: Noise

RETURN to: Hayden Island Info


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