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How to Have A Fatal Boating Accident in Alaska
By Fred Dyson


May 24, 2005

If you want to have a fatal boating accident, Alaska is the place to be. According to the latest boating fatality statistics Alaskans die in boats at 4 times the national average. If you want to maintain our state's "leadership", you can dramatically increase the odds of having your own fatality by including as many of the following components in your boat trip:

  • Use an open skiff less then 26ft in length
  • Overload the boat with as many people as possible and have them stand- up in the boat and drink alcohol
  • Have the boat operated by a male,18-40, who knows it all, and thinks boat operation is like driving a car only easier because there are no silly traffic control signs or cops to bother with. Make sure he has lots to drink.
  • Do not tell anyone where you are going or when you will return. Don't check the weather and/or tides. Do not protect yourself from cold, wet conditions
  • Do not wear lifejackets [technically called personal flotation devices (PFD)]
  • Do not take tools, spare parts, extra fuel, a radio, bailing can, paddles, maps, an emergency position locator, or hull patching supplies
  • Make a sudden maneuver or hit a rock, sandbar, or log so that all or most of the passengers are thrown to one side of the boat and/or into the water.

There is some good news. Overall, our boating accident rate is down and less people are dying in boats annually. Commercial fishing has seen most dynamic reduction in fatalities. Some of this comes from the Federal Commercial vessel regulations that came from the loss of the FV Western Sea in Marmot Bay, Kodiak some 20 years ago. Now commercial vessels carry; survival suits, automatically deploying rafts, Emergency locator beacons, flares etc. In addition the skipper must conduct man overboard and safety drills and stability tests when the vessel is modified.

The Alaska Boating Safety Council, the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard Auxiliary, have put immense effort in to "boating safety education", vessel inspections, and the very useful "Kid Don't Float" program. The later has boxes of child size life jackets available at most boat docks and many boat launch sites. We are now without excuse in equipping our kids with life jackets BEFORE we put them in the boat. Amazingly, vandals and thieves have not stolen many of these life jackets. There has been a significant reduction in child fatalities traceable to more kids wearing their life jackets. If you tell kids to wear their life jackets on a boat, they will do it. It's the adult males who always think they know better or don't want to be bothered.

Technology is helping. Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) are now available that are easy to wear and work in. A few years ago, a fisherman from the Bering Sea, got tired of losing friends and developed a line of jackets with an inflatable bladder that were very comfortable to wear. That line was called "Stormy Seas". In a subsequent column, we will identify other products and venders.

I lived on a boat as a child and I thought a life jacket was part of my body. My mother put it on me in the morning and it was the last thing I took off at night. That was a good plan because a local Fireboat Skipper used to give me a quarter to walk the top of the dock rails (and/or wet my pants). I had many "accidents" of both types and made some good money. He and my mother had a stormy relationship that she expressed in remarkably "colorful" ways.

In Alaska, boats are a magic carpet to extraordinary scenery and the best fishing in the world. With a little fore thought and equipment, it can also be safer then driving in traffic. BE SMART, BE SAFE.


Note: Fred Dyson is a licensed captain and serves on the Governor's BOATING SAFETY COUNCIL. He lived on boats as a child. He lives on a classic wooden yacht in the winter in Juneau. His father ran tug boats and was a part time smuggler in Puget Sound.. Dyson has operated marine research vessels, fished commercially for 25 years, and now operates a charter boat out of Whittier.


Note: Comments published on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.



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