Alaska sets new boating fatality record

Lt. Tom Pauser, with the 17th Coast Guard District’s prevention division, displays two life jackets while discussing their proper use with students at Hogarth Kingeekuk Sr. Memorial School April 10, 2012. The Coast Guard partnered with Alaska’s Office of Boating Safety to educate students in rural villages about cold-water safety. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

The Coast Guard often partners with Alaska’s Office of Boating Safety to educate students about cold-water safety. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Usually a boating fatality story is a sad recounting of a life lost on the water. But not this story.

Alaska has not had a single recreational boating fatality since the start of the year.

That’s a record-breaking streak for Alaska, according to Jeff Johnson with the Office of Boating Safety.

“We’re excited. We just hope it continues.”

Last year, no fatalities occurred until the end of June when seven people died over a couple weeks.

Most recent years averaged a dozen fatalities, according to Johnson. July and August tend to be the most dangerous months. Last year saw 22 fatalities.

Deaths that occur in a commercial activity–including guided fishing trips, boat tours, or river rafting—are not included in these statistics.

Johnson says people often underestimate just how cold the water is.

“Our fatality profile in Alaska is a little different than the national profile. Our fatalities are most commonly a capsize, swamping or fall over board and it’s a cold-water immersion drowning.”

According to statistics kept by OBS since its start in 1998, nine out of ten victims are adult males that end up in the water without a life jacket.

Johnson says that it’s common among men to see life jackets as an inconvenience or as something only beginners wear.

“Without a life jacket on, most of these folks are not living long enough to become hypothermic. Life jackets are the single most important thing that people can do to avoid dying in an immersion event.”

OBS offers a list of safety guidelines along with state requirements for boating safety.