Rangers tout the other PFD

Posted: Friday, June 06, 2003

When Alaska State Parks rangers are patrolling the Kenai River this summer to ensure people are complying with fishing regulations, the officers also will be keeping an eye toward boater safety.

Chief among their concerns will be whether boaters have the required number of personal flotation devices or life jackets aboard and that the PFDs are readily accessible as required by law.

"We should be able to pull up to a boat and see life jackets," said Bill Berkhahn, Kenai River district ranger.

"A lot of times we're told, 'Oh yeah, I've got them. They're right up in the bow,' and the boater will start digging through other gear to find them.

"That's not good enough," Berkhahn said. "The law states they must be readily accessible."

Every person on any boat must have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD, which can be any of four different types: offshore, near shore, flotation aid or restricted use.

Boats 16 feet long or longer, except canoes and kayaks, also are required to carry one throwable, ring or seat-cushion type float device.

The different types of life jackets vary depending on their intended uses, according to Berkhahn.

"Type I is designed for commercial use. Guides are required to have them for themselves and for their clients," he said.

The Alaska Boater's Handbook, available from the Department of Motor Vehicles, states the Type I PFD is intended for use off-shore in open coastal waters or potentially rough seas.

Type II near shore life jackets are designed for general boating activities and are suitable for protected areas where rough water is not likely, according to the booklet.

The flotation aid Type III life jacket offers freedom of movement making it especially suited to canoeing, water skiing and fishing.

The restricted-use Type V PFD is described by Berkhahn as a "float coat."

"It's what I wear. It's cold here and I usually have to wear a coat anyway, so it might as well be a float coat," he said.

"People also need to realize that life jackets come in different sizes. They should have a good variety of sizes available on the boat to fit everyone on board. The key is to read the label (on the life jacket)," he said.

Other safety requirements on the Kenai River, according to Berkhahn, include a sound producing device a whistle or a horn.

"If your motor fails and you start drifting downstream out of control, yelling and waving your hands might not be good enough," he said.

"If you're heading toward a group of other boats and they're fishing and looking downstream, they're not going to notice you heading toward them unless you alert them to a potential problem by using a whistle or an air horn."

When boating between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility, all boats must carry Coast Guard-approved navigational lights. These include red and green port and starboard lights and an all-around white anchor light visible for two miles.

The configuration of navigational lights varies with the type and size of the boat, and the boat operator is responsible for knowing which lights are required.

Boaters also should become familiar with "the rules of the road on the river," according to Berkhahn.

"People should operate their boats in the center channel of the river to help control shore erosion and they should practice defensive driving. Give others a wide berth.

"If everyone cooperates, we'll get along a lot safer out there," he said.

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