Little boat, big water

Students and instructors participate in a personal watercraft safety lesson at Auke Lake in Juneau, Alaska, June 1, 2014. The class focused on handling PWCs in tight quarters before moving into high speeds. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Students and instructors participate in a personal watercraft safety lesson at Auke Lake in Juneau, Alaska, June 1, 2014. The class focused on handling PWCs in tight quarters before moving into high speeds. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

What do you picture when you think about maritime traffic in Alaska? Is it crab fishermen on the Bering Sea? Or maybe cruise ships navigating the islands of Southeast Alaska? Oil tankers leaving Price William Sound? Whatever it is, it probably isn’t an image of people jetting around on personal watercraft, but believe it or not, they are here. Like any other recreational boater, PWC users take advantage of the countless miles of untouched coast and scenic backdrops for which Alaska is known.

Based in Juneau, Alaska, it is the role of the Coast Guard 17th District’s prevention department to educate boaters and prepare them for surviving a disaster at sea. This mission extends to recreational PWC boaters, a topic that boating safety specialist Mike Folkerts knows all about.

“This allowed people to get some safety training under controlled conditions and build better skills,” said Folkerts, standing on the shore of Juneau’s Auke Lake during training June 1, 2014. “To have that professional level of training is a terrific advantage for us because typically a person will get on a personal watercraft and just hit the gas and go. They learn the hard way and that’s not what we really need.”

Mike Folkerts, a Coast Guard 17th District boating safety expert, kneels on a personal watercraft as Shawn Alladio, a National Safe Boating Council boating safety instructor, provides some helpful tips during a class at Auke Lake in Juneau, Alaska, June 1, 2014. The day's training focused on the fundamentals of safely operating a personal watercraft. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Mike Folkerts, a Coast Guard 17th District boating safety expert, kneels on a personal watercraft as Shawn Alladio, a National Safe Boating Council boating safety instructor, provides some helpful tips during a class at Auke Lake in Juneau, Alaska, June 1, 2014. The day’s training focused on the fundamentals of safely operating a personal watercraft. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

That professional level of training was provided by Shawn Alladio, the founder of Califronia-based K38 Water Rescue. The American Watercraft Association sponsored Alladio’s trip to Juneau, where she joined Folkerts, the Alaska State Troopers, and City of Juneau Parks and Recreation personnel in hosting the training for area PWC users. Over two days the participants first went through a classroom training session, taught by Alladio, Folkerts and Sgt. Aaron Frenzel, of the Alaska State Troopers, then took their lesson to Auke Lake to refine some new techniques.“What we’re really doing here is working on the fundamentals of the operation of personal watercraft,” said Alladio. “The predominant use is for people to go as fast as they can, and most people don’t spend time working on the slow speed techniques. So that’s really what this class is based upon.”

Due to the small size of a PWC, riders have to be careful with how they distribute their bodyweight, which isn’t as much of a concern with larger vessels. Using loaned watercraft, the students worked under Alladio to practice on the small vessels just off shore. They started with simple embarkation and debarkation techniques and worked all the way up to high speed maneuvers in the middle of the lake.

At the end of the day the teamwork paid off, and everyone left the lake with a better understanding of how to operate personal watercraft safely.

“If I can just train one person and help them get more advanced skills for their confidence on the water, I’m stoked,” said Alladio. “If you train one person they’re going to train ten.”

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