Number of boating deaths down

Posted: Monday, October 02, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The number of people who died in boating accidents in Alaska is down so far this year, but state and Coast Guard officials aren't ready to attribute the drop to Alaska's new boating safety law.

Seventeen people have been killed in boating accidents so far this year. Last year 29 people died in boating accidents in Alaska.

''Some of it has to do with safety, but there are other factors,'' Sue Hargis, boating safety coordinator for the U.S. Coast Guard in Juneau, said of this year's lower death total.

Among the other factors was a cold wet summer and the high price of gasoline, both of which may have kept many boaters out of the water and helped reduce the number of accidents.

The number of multiple-fatality accidents was also down this year. Last year, there were five cases in which three or more people died.

''That really drives the numbers up,'' Hargis said. ''This year we've had almost all singles. We have the same number of accidents with fatalities, just a different number of people in the boats.''

Alaska, which has the highest boater fatality rate in the country, became the last state in the U.S. to establish a boating safety and registration program when Gov. Tony Knowles signed the Alaska Boating Safety Act into law in May.

State boating law administrator Jeff Johnson Office of Boating Safety, said the new law may have helped reduce the number of fatalities but it's too early to tell.

''I would like to think public awareness may have had a positive effect, but there are a lot of other factors,'' Johnson said.

The state's new safety law requires a variety of safety equipment, depending on the size of the boat and whether it is a motorized or non-motorized craft. Boats can be required to carry fire extinquishers, backfire flame protectors, visual distress signals or sound-making devices. There must be a life jacket for each person on board any boat and anyone 13 and older is required to wear a personal flotation device.

Though the boating season is drawing to a close in the Interior and Southcentral Alaska, Hargis isn't sure if the state will stay under 20 boating deaths before freeze-up hits.

''We generally lose a few hunters and late-season fishermen,'' she said. An average of 25 people a year have died in boating accidents in Alaska in the last five years.

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