With the recent boating accidents, safety is something that should be on every boater's mind.

“I fully believe that people need to think about being prepared and what that means before they head out on the water,” said Kelli Toth, with the Office of Boating Safety.

Alaska has had four official boating fatalities in 2018, and there are a few still under investigation, Toth said.

Toth thinks most accidents can be prevented if the right steps are taken.

“Going out on the water, there’s a lot of choices that – especially as adults – that we get to make,” Toth said. “And, we need to realize that making some of those choices can have grave consequences.”

Both of the two most recent accidents involved alcohol – one on May 25 where a 19-year-old drowned in Finger Lake in the Palmer area, and the other this past Saturday when a woman was killed and two others were injured on Flat Lake near Big Lake.

For both the boat driver and passengers, staying sober could save your life. It’s not just about your ability to think straight.

“In a cold water immersion event, your body does certain things to react,” Toth said. “The brain sends a message to the rest of the body to shut everything down and to protect itself. It wants to constrict all of the blood vessels throughout your body to protect the core.”

Toth says that alcohol is a vasodilator – it makes blood vessels bigger than normal and prevents the body from constricting them fully.

“Deciding to go out on the water and stay sober on the water, whether you are an operator or a passenger, can have a huge result,” Toth said.

Staying sober isn’t the only way to prevent boating accidents.

Both Toth and Lt. Paul Fussey with the Alaska State Troopers say wearing a life jacket is one of the most important steps one can take to stay safe on the water.

According to the National Weather Service, almost 85 percent of “people who drown while boating were not wearing a life jacket,” and two out of three “drowning victims are considered good swimmers.”

Fussey said, “Alaska is a leader almost every year in boating deaths due to drowning. Most of those lack of wearing a life jacket”

Another way to prevent boating deaths is to file a float plan.

“Tell someone that you trust where you’re going, where you’re going to be at and when you’re going to return,” Fussey said.

This can help rescue teams find overdue boaters.

“If you don’t return, we have to have an idea of where to start.”

To help prevent accidents, the Office of Boating Safety also suggests carrying an emergency communication device and a signaling device, attaching an engine cut-off device, having a way to reboard – like a ladder or foot swing – and to teach passengers how to use emergency equipment and how to run the boat.

The United States Coast Guard Float Plan offers a template for public use, which you can find here; the Alaska State Troopers also make available a Wilderness Trip Plan, which can be found here