Making good decisions on the water

It was with a great deal of relief last week that the Clarion reported the successful rescue of six people who had ended up in the Kenai River after boating accidents. Efforts to rescue a dog trapped under a capsized boat were unsuccessful, but there are six people who lived to fish another day.

Thankfully, all six people were wearing personal flotation devices. A life jacket doesn’t guarantee survival, not in the Kenai River’s cold waters and dangerous currents, but it does greatly increase the chances of being rescued.

“Life preservers buy you time in the event of a rescue,” Kenai Fire Department Battalion Chief Tony Prior told the Clarion.

Life jackets are a good place to start — but are only effective if they’re actually being worn. And there are a number of other common-sense steps boaters should take before heading out on the water, whether to participate in the final week of the Kenai River personal-use fishery, or for an excursion onto one of the region’s many other bodies of water.

For one, know your vessel’s capacity — and plan not only for who and what you’re starting with, but also what you hope to bring back.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, sockeye typically weigh between 4 to 15-pounds. For the sake of argument, let’s use 8-pounds and multiply that by 25 — the personal-use limit for a single-member household. That’s 200 pounds. Add another 80 pounds for the 10 fish permitted for each additional member of the household, and a boat will quickly run out of freeboard. Throw in some wind and waves generated by the changing tide or the wake of another boat, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Boaters can learn more by taking a safety course. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources Office of Boating Safety offers the Alaska Water Wise program, as well as a number of other resources, including a cold water boating handbook with a supplement for the Kenai River. The local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary also offers a variety of workshops on boating and boating safety, in addition to conducting vessel safety checks.

When it comes down to it, boating safely is a decision, and the best decisions are made based on knowledge and experience. We’re glad to see more boaters deciding to wear life jackets, and we hope more people take advantage of opportunities to expand their boating knowledge.

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