Safety all about common sense

After a winter that seemed to never end, Alaskans are ready to enjoy the sunshine.  In the warm beauty of the season, it’s easy to forget that summer carries its own perils.   

The dangers of winter’s cold, dark, ice and snow are replaced by long days that often are filled with too much activity and not enough sleep. Drier weather conditions mean that carelessness with a campfire can lead to a wildfire.  Warmer temperatures and sunshine can lull us into a sense of complacency about potential dangers on the water or in the woods.

As they do every year, officials are urging Alaskans to have a safe summer by being aware and being prepared. A recent Coast Guard report, “2012 Recreational Boating Statistics,” provides a timely warning as Alaska’s recreational boating season gets underway.

Recreational boating accidents in Alaska claimed 22 lives last year, the highest fatality rate in the nation. Alaska’s fatality rate of 43.9 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational boats compares to the overall national rate of 5.4 last year, according to a recent story in the Ketchikan Daily News.

The Coast Guard reports a total of 4,515 boating accidents in the United States and U.S, territories that resulted in 651 deaths, 3,000 injuries and $38 million in property damage.

Nearly 71 percent of the fatalities were drownings — and nearly 85 percent of those the victims were reported as not wearing a life jacket, according to the Coast Guard.

The dangers of Alaska’s cold waters should supply plenty of motivation for people to wear personal flotation devices — every time they get out on the water, no matter how nice a day it seems. Unfortunately, way too many people seem to think “it” will never happen to them. The Coast Guard reports people aboard powered recreational boats in Alaska have only an 11.5-percent observed wear rate for PFDs. Fortunately, another segment of the state’s recreational boating population — kayakers and canoers  —   had an 89.2-percent “observed wear rate” for life jackets during 2010-12, the Ketchikan Daily News reported.

“The paddleboat community —the kayakers and canoers — they get that the water is cold and they get that they’re going to have a problem if they don’t have a PFD on them and they go into the water,” Jeff Johnson, the state boating law administrator with the Alaska Office of Boating Safety, told the Ketchikan newspaper. “But for some reason, our powerboat community hasn’t gotten that message yet.”

Safety isn’t rocket science, it’s common sense. As the summer season gets into full swing, we hope those enjoying the beauty and adventure of the southern Kenai Peninsula will take plenty with them as they venture out into the peninsula’s wild places.

Whether it’s wearing a life jacket on the water, making sure you’re rested before you get behind the wheel of the vehicle, practicing fire safety or preparing for the worst as you expect the best, let’s make this a safe, enjoyable summer throughout the Kenai Peninsula.