Officer Bill Berkhahn of the Alaska Department of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has spent the last few years patrolling the Kenai River. His efforts to promote boating safety while enforcing boating regulations along with his work in schools teaching life jacket education has earned him the honor of being selected Boating Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by the National Association of Boating Law Administration. His peers at the division of Parks and Recreation nominated Berkhahn for the distinguished honor.
Berkhahn's work on the River is more important than ever, since the State of Alaska passed the Boating Safety Act a year ago, giving the state a Boating Safety Program. While the new program means there will be more enforcement on Alaska's lakes and rivers, the focus will be on education to the various user groups, according to Berkhahn. "We're out there to bust people. It's education and information that is the best way to come into compliance with the new laws. It's our job to educate the users so they know the equipment they need to have and how to use it," Berkhahn told the Kenai Rotary Club last week.
Bill Berkhahn, of Alaska Parks & Rec., demonstartes proper floatation gear to members of the Kenai Rotary Club
By enacting the Boating Safety Act, Alaska is now eligible for federal funds and matching grants. "When fisherman and boaters and other recreational users buy equipment they pay a federal tax. Now that we have a Safety Program, we are eligible for those moneys. Hopefully we'll see close to $700,000 coming back from the federal government that will go into funding the Boating Safety Program as well as some maintenance funds for recreational facilities such as boat ramps and floating docks," said Berkhahn.
According to the National Boating Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, Alaskans are doing a pretty good job already and he estimates that 70-80% of the users he meets are in accordance with the new regulations. However, there are some major changes such as running lights, and floating rings, for details and information about the requirements of the Boating Safety Act, contact the division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation at 262-5581.
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