Loaner life jacket program debuts on Kenai River

Posted: Wednesday, August 05, 2009

KENAI - The state is stocking popular boat ramps on the Kenai River with adult life jackets to try to save the lives of men who typically eschew the safety measure.

In Alaska, nine of every 10 people who drown are adult males between 18 and 50, with most riding in smaller, open boats and not wearing a life jacket, said Joe McCullough, education coordinator with the Alaska Office of Boating Safety.

"The kids have already gotten the message to wear their life jackets through a very successful 'Kids Don't Float' campaign in Alaska," McCullough said. "But like the rest of the country, we're really behind in getting adults to understand how important it is to wear a personal flotation device."

McCullough's agency intends to provide dozens of loaner life jackets, and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association is paying for "Wear It Alaska!" signs that will be installed by Alaska State Parks.

McCullough hopes the Kenai River will be the first of many locations where "Wear It Alaska!" signs are prominent and loaner jackets will be made available.

Alaska's boating fatality rate (per 100,000 boats) has dropped from 144 in 1998 to 26 in 2006. More than 47 percent of youth ages 13-17 are estimated to wear a life jacket and nearly 88 percent of kids under 13 wear one.

But only 6 percent of people over 18 wear a life jacket.

Two-thirds of the people who drown capsize or fall overboard from a boat.

Locations where the life jackets will be placed include The Pillars, Centennial and Swiftwater Campgrounds in Soldotna, Bing's Landing in Sterling and the Cooper Landing Boat Launch.

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