ANCHORAGE — The number of Alaskans who die in recreational boating accidents continues to decline.
The Coast Guard said 12 people died in recreational accidents last year, down from 17 in 2007.
Mike Folkerts, recreational boating safety specialist for the Coast Guard in Juneau, said the state’s recreational boating safety program is the primary driving force. The state passed the boating safety law in 2000.
By contrast, an average of 45 people died each year in the late 1980s, including 70 in 1985, before the law was passed.
“We were all over the board until 2000 when the state passed a boating safety law, and the trend has been consistently downward," Folkerts said.
Joe McCullough, education coordinator in the state office of boating safety, said the numbers when looked at over time tell the real story.
“If you look at a five-year period, you can see that the state has reduced the fatality rate by more than 25 percent. That, I think, is the more significant number," he said.
McCullough found particularly telling was the percentage of 13-to-17-year-olds who wear life jackets on the water. Between 2004 and 2006, the rate jumped from 34 to 48 percent.
“That’s phenomenal," he said.
He attributes the change to the success of the Kids Don’t Float program, which he says has reached more than 56,000 children in 50 communities over the years. The program provides life jackets on loan to children. Since 1996, the program has saved 17 children, he said.
Adult males continue to be the most at-risk group. Eleven of the 12 who died last year were men, mainly in their 40s.
“I’m surprised any females drowned," McCullough said. “They wear life jackets a much higher percentage of the time."
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