Safest Fourth of July weekend in Alaska since 1998

8647_478816298868760_1120676865_nSince the Alaska Office of Boating Safety was established in 1998, it has kept a watchful eye over the Alaska boating community. The state organization and the Coast Guard 17th District’s office of boating safety track recreational boating fatalities to better understand the dangers of boating on Alaska waters. Some years the first death occurred as early as January, and until now never later than Memorial Day weekend.

Not a single recreational boating safety-related fatality has been reported so far in 2013. This milestone marks the first year since the boating safety offices began keeping records that the Fourth of July holiday has come and gone with no deaths.

Safe boating campaigns and other preventative work by the Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Alaska Office of Boating safety, the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, the Kids Don’t Float program and vessel safety examiners all contribute to increased public awareness of how to be safe on the Alaskan waters.

“I would like to say that this is all of the work that [those agencies] do that makes safer boaters,” said Mike Folkerts, boating safety coordinator at the Coast Guard 17th District office of boating safety in Juneau, Alaska. “But luck plays a role as well.”

Drowning is the main cause of death when it comes to recreational boating in Alaska. Last year, 22 recreational boating deaths were recorded, and more than half of the victims reportedly were not wearing life jackets.

“A profile of Alaska’s recreational boating and subsistence fatalities looks like this,” Folkerts said. “Nine out of 10 were adult males, five of six fall overboard or capsize, three of four involve powerboats and nine out of 10 fatalities that occur on boats under 26 feet can be attributed to alcohol use and failure to wear a life jacket.”

In the past 10 years, over 100 more Alaskans died in recreational and subsistence boating accidents than aboard commercial fishing vessels, Folkerts said.

With summer in full swing, more and more boaters take to the water for a nice day of fishing, whale watching or just enjoying the sun — sometimes a rare commodity in Alaska. Boaters are reminded to practice good judgment while on the water to ensure everyone comes home safe.

Every boater is urged to file a float plan with the harbormaster or friends before setting out, have reliable means of communication, signaling devices such as flares, a registered emergency position indicating beacon, and enough food and water to last several days if they find themselves stranded or in distress.

“We have never gone this far into the year, and right now well past the Fourth of July weekend, without reporting a single reportable recreation boating fatality,” Folkerts said. “That is pretty remarkable all by itself.”

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