Citing high number of drownings, Office of Boating Safety pushes life jacket use
Those Kids Don’t Float life jacket stations aren’t just for children. Seven people have died in Alaska waters this year — the same number of people who drowned in all of 2015. The Alaska Office of Boating Safety said, given that statistic, there’s more reason than ever to wear a life jacket while enjoying the water.
OBS said the group most at risk of drowning because of not wearing a life jacket is adult men.
“Wearing a life jacket is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of wisdom,” said Kelli Toth, an education specialist for OBS.
She said on sunny, warm days, people are less likely to wear a life jacket. But Alaska’s cold waters can kill quickly no matter the weather.
“Our perception is [that] it’s safe. It’s beautiful. Why should we worry about this cold water?” Toth said. “It’s not about hypothermia. It’s the ‘gasp reflex.’ When people gasp and hyperventilate, that’s when they drown.”
Toth said since the life jacket lending program started in Homer in 1996, it has saved lives by allowing free access to life jackets at more than 700 lakes, rivers and oceanside docks around the state. She encouraged adults to join their kids in wearing life jackets because boating accidents don’t often allow time to grab a life jacket from a storage area.
“It happens so fast, you don’t have time to put your life jacket on,” Toth said.
At Mirror Lake Sunday, Mia Vajdos was enjoying the warm weather with her family. Her daughters were each wearing a life jacket from the lake’s loaner board.
“It’s convenient. I don’t have to bring a life vest, so I pop one of the little ones on them,” Vajdos said, adding she also uses a loaner jacket while she paddleboards. “I can swim, but it’s kind of cold. If I take in a lung when I go in, I don’t want to struggle.”
Her husband didn’t wear a life jacket while paddleboarding.
“He’s a way better swimmer [than me],” Vajdos said.
Toth said even on a paddleboard, adults should wear a life jacket or have one with them. Anyone under 13 years old is required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while on an open boat or on a boat deck. Those over the age of 13 don’t have to wear a life jacket, but must have one readily accessible.
Toth also encouraged people to limit alcohol consumption while boating. She said while under the influence, “the body can not react the way it naturally wants to protect your body. Just leave it at the beach.”
People interested in establishing a Kids Don’t Float life jacket loaner board in their community can apply online.
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