Coast Guard, Alaska Office of Boating Safety make a splash with boating safety

Lt. Shea Winterberger, an international enforcement specialist with the Coast Guard 17th District enforcement division, shows Harborview Elementary School students where to find safety information on a raft at the Augustus Brown Pool in Juneau, Alaska, Feb. 20, 2014. Coast Guard, state and local personnel offered training to the students that focused on the types of incidents that most often cause fatalities in Alaska’s waters. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Lt. Shea Winterberger, an international enforcement specialist with the Coast Guard 17th District enforcement division, shows Harborview Elementary School students where to find safety information on a raft at the Augustus Brown Pool in Juneau, Alaska, Feb. 20, 2014. Coast Guard, state and local personnel offered training to the students that focused on the types of incidents that most often cause fatalities in Alaska’s waters. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Thick winter clouds wreathe the mountains surrounding the busy downtown area as commuters and students hustle to escape the frigid February air. Ice and snow coat the pavement leading to the entrance of the Augustus Brown Pool, yet a nearly tropical atmosphere awaits Coast Guard and state employees as they trickle in from the dreary outdoors.

Thawing out in the humid pool area, the 12 or so trainers and observers, hailing from Juneau-area Coast Guard units and the Alaska Office of Boating Safety, begin preparing learning stations for the Harborview Elementary Students who are about to arrive. A raft and pair of throwable personal flotation devices occupy one of the two pools, while the instructors prepare the opposite pool for lessons involving the proper use of lifejackets and the dangers of swimming in cold weather clothing.

Like with many communities in Alaska, life in Juneau has a heavy maritime influence. Between fishing and other recreational activities, Alaskans spend a considerable amount of time on the ocean, lakes and rivers throughout the state despite numbing temperatures and the risk of water-related accidents and fatalities.

Cmdr. Michael Pierson, Coast Guard 17th District resource and performance management department head, hands out lifejackets to Harborview Elementary School students at the Augustus Brown Pool in Juneau, Alaska, Feb. 20, 2014. The Coast Guard frequently partners with the Alaska Office of Boating Safety to administer the Kids Don’t Float curriculum to children throughout the state. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Cmdr. Michael Pierson, Coast Guard 17th District resource and performance management department head, hands out lifejackets to Harborview Elementary School students at the Augustus Brown Pool in Juneau, Alaska, Feb. 20, 2014. The Coast Guard frequently partners with the Alaska Office of Boating Safety to administer the Kids Don’t Float curriculum to children throughout the state. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

In an effort to reduce the number of water-related accidents and deaths, Coast Guard members and employees have teamed up with the Alaska Office of Boating Safety to educate children about preventive measures and steps they can take to keep themselves and their families safe. For this particular event, the Coast Guard and Alaska Office of Boating Safety personnel were joined by the staff of the Augustus Brown Pool who donated the use of the facility.

“To have a partnership with the Coast Guard is amazing,” said Kelli Toth, the education specialist for the Alaska Office of Boating Safety. “The pool session is a great opportunity; it’s a hands-on experience.”

The children’s excitement to be at the pool was apparent as they arrived, and their jitters showed through as Toth, the Coast Guard personnel and a resident lifeguard laid out the ground rules for the lesson. After the safety lecture, the children formed a relatively tidy line as the instructors passed out lifejackets and split into groups at the meticulously planned stations.

“We know, from looking at the past, which water-related activities are most dangerous,” said Mike Folkerts, the Coast Guard 17th District boating safety specialist. “Each station focuses on a different activity that we feel could best improve a child’s ability to survive an otherwise tragic accident.”

The children were presented with a different lesson at each activity station, and Coast Guardsmen instructed them on how to respond to getting back into a capsized raft, throwing a flotation device to someone in the water, swimming with heavy clothing and properly floating with a lifejacket. What was not immediately obvious about these scenarios is that the children were not the only people learning. The Coast Guardsmen giving the training were also learning how to teach this class so they can take that skill to schools all over the state.

The Coast Guard will continue to work with the state to reach 34 maritime communities as far north as Barrow.

“The job doesn’t end in Juneau,” said Folkerts. “Water safety lessons are a crucial part of education anywhere along Alaska’s rivers, lakes or 44,000 miles of coastline.”