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Andrew Halcro last week wrote a succinct piece on an all too common tragedy in Alaska and New Mexico.

At first glance it had all the makings of a Hollywood movie set. But this was no Hollywood movie set, it was my front yard on Sand Lake and it was 3am on June 10. For two days, fire and police vehicles were fixtures in my front yard, as the search for a missing canoeist continued. Family members gathered outside my front window, watching and waiting as they held hands, cried and prayed….

One APD officer on the scene told me that these kinds of tragedies are all too frequently due to an unfortunate combination of events. … In this case, the costliest hole was when the two young men launched their canoe at the public access point, they walked right past a newly erected life jacket stand that offered boaters free personal flotations devices.

Alaska initiated the “Kids Don’t Float” program. Fireman Bob Painter of Homer founded the program after a number of children drowned in Homer.

(May 29, 2009, Anchorage, Alaska) – The “Kids Don’t Float” and boating safety programs will continue this summer… Under these boating safety programs, children learn about boating safety in schools, and life jackets are available for loan at many lakes and rivers across Alaska. …Representative Mark Neuman of Wasilla sponsored HB 151 and Governor Palin signed the legislation in May.

Both NM and Alaska rank high in the USA for the prevalence of drownings (the number of deaths divided by the population). Alaska is a semi-arid region with a lot of riparian and coast line; New Mexico is a semi-arid region. Both states share a cultural norm that things go better with alcohol, especially if activities involve an engine (boat, auto, snowmachine). Both states seem to believe “accidents” [not my fault] are always happening but ones with bad consequences only happen to others, the less deserving.

PFDs (personal flotation devices, once referred to as lifevests) are no substitute for sobriety but they can buy time, if properly used. Even without alcohol present, PFDs are valuable. Take a look at these numbers–

1. Alaska has one of the highest boating fatality rates in the nation
a. at least 6 out of 10 are NOT wearing a life jacket
b. 9 out of 10 involve boats 26 feet and under
c. 5 out of 6 are due to capsizing or falling overboard
d. 8 out of 10 are Alaska residents
e. 9 out of 10 are adult males
f. at least 1 out of 3 involve alcohol
g. nearly all incidents involve cold water immersion

The state law allows adults to endanger themselves, but not underage children.

5. Legal requirements
a. everyone in the boat must have a life jacket of the proper size readily accessible
b. anyone under the age of 13 must be wearing a life jacket when on deck or in an open boat

c. must be suitable for the activity and wearer
1. read the label
d. must be in serviceable condition
1. free of defects (tears, missing zippers, broken buckles)
e. must be USCG-approved

A child’s coloring book encourages children to grow up to remember the law’s requirements.
from http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/boating/pdf/2006ColoringBook36pgWEB.pdf

It’s the LAW!
Persons under the age of thirteen
MUST wear their
PFD in an open boat
or on a deck.

Alaskan 8-year old on open boat without PFD

Alaskan 8-year old on open boat without PFD

Gov. Sarah Palin issued this proclamation in May to remind all of us that being safe around water, whether or not boating or fishing, is smart and more than the easily remembered “do what you otter around water, wear a pfd”

“WHEREAS, Alaska is blessed with an extensive coastline, millions of lakes, and thousands of rivers, making Alaska’s waters an important part of daily life; and

WHEREAS, our state offers many diverse boating opportunities for transportation, subsistence, and recreation, including kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and power boating; and

WHEREAS, boating can also be dangerous, and often fatal; and

WHEREAS, Alaska’s frigid waters can kill the unprepared, regardless of swimming ability; and

WHEREAS, four out of five of Alaska’s boating fatalities involve a sudden, unexpected capsize or fall overboard; and

WHEREAS, to help prevent accidents or fatalities while boating, boaters can take the simple step of wearing life jackets when in an open boat or on an open boat deck. In an emergency, life jackets provide an important advantage, and allow all efforts to be focused on self-rescue or getting help from others; and

WHEREAS, the newest designs make today’s life jackets more comfortable, functional, and affordable than ever. There is no reason to not wear one; and

WHEREAS, by wearing life jackets while boating, Alaskans demonstrate that when enjoying the outdoors, safety always comes first;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Sarah Palin, Governor of the state of Alaska, do hereby proclaim May 16-22, 2009 as:

Safe Boating Week

in Alaska, and encourage all boaters to make their boating memories this season good ones by always wearing life jackets, carefully preparing for each trip, carrying appropriate communications and signaling devices, and by serving as a positive example on the water for other boaters.
Dated: May 7, 2009

To test a life jacket, lift it at the shoulders. If the life jacket comes up over the ears, it is too big.

Test Alaska child's PFD fit. Will she slip out of unfastened PFD on open boat? SEAN COCKERHAM / Anchorage Daily News

Test Alaska child's PFD fit. Will she slip out of unzipped PFD on open boat?

Today comes this tragic reminder of the example set “on the water for other boaters.”

A 56-year-old man drowned in Bristol Bay this morning, the Coast Guard said. He was fishing in an 18-foot skiff with his two teenage daughters when he went overboard while pulling in a net, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Sara Francis. … The accident happened in Togiak Bay around 9 a.m. and a nearby fisherman immediately called for Coast Guard help. The skiff was only 10 to 20 yards from shore but the man was not wearing a life jacket.


2009-08-11 Very nice picture guide to Alaska Safe Boating Course.

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