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The Alaska Office of Boating Wins NASBLA Compass Award

The COMPASS Award is a means of recognizing a NASBLA member agency for significant measures and leadership it has taken to develop a model of performance in a specific area. In the maritime domain, the COMPASS is a tool that we use to help chart new territory or navigate through and beyond unfamiliar waters and challenges that lie ahead. Receipt of this award identifies an agency whose program, effort, or initiative has truly enhanced our nation’s safety and security, and one that has become a model for us to follow.

This year’s recipient of the NASBLA COMPASS Award for providing a direction for us to follow, is awarded to Jeff Johnson and the Alaska Office of Boating Safety, for the national model it has created in the area of Cold Water Boating.

The Alaska Office of Boating Safety was established by Department Order within the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation in June 1998. The Alaska Boating Safety Act was introduced in the 1999 legislative session and was signed into law on May 11, 2000, making Alaska the last state to establish a state boating safety program.

In little more than a decade, the Alaska Office of Boating Safety has made great strides in addressing the challenges presented by the cold water boating environment and culturally diverse boating populations.

Alaska has one of the highest non-commercial boating fatality rates in the nation. In Alaska, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death. Accident statistics reveal that three out of four boating fatalities were the result of capsizing or falling overboard into cold water, in a remote location, where the boater was not wearing a life jacket.

Knowing these challenges, the Alaska Office of Boating Safety tackled the issues on several fronts from school-based curriculum to life jacket loan programs to educational video to special outreach to the indigenous peoples of Alaska.

Alaska's Kids Don’t Float (KDF) is a statewide injury prevention program that was developed to address Alaska’s high child and youth drowning rate.  More than 466 KDF loaner boards have been placed in communities around the state, hosted by many different agencies, organizations, and individuals. At least fifteen Alaskan children are known to have survived a near-drowning accident because of a Kids Don't Float life jacket.

The Kids Don’t Float School Program is a model curriculum for anyone wishing to teach boating and water safety concepts to K-12 students.

The Alaska Office of Boating Safety developed an educational video on Cold Water Boating that explains the effects of cold water immersion and debunks some of the myths of hypothermia. The office brought together an array of partners to produce the video including the U.S. Coast Guard, Canadian Coast Guard, Alaska State Parks, University of Manitoba and the U.S. Air Force.

The video’s core message is the importance of wearing a life jacket when boating, especially in cold water. A properly fitted life jacket increases survival time when immersed in cold water from mere minutes to possibly hours – but only if the life jacket is worn.

Through a special arrangement with the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation and their project partners the United States Power Squadrons has developed a funding initiative to provide for the reproduction of the video.  Available through the NASBLA website, the Cold Water Boating video has been shared with boating and water safety professionals across Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway and the United States.

With their boating safety instructors, the Office of Boating Safety worked with native elders to address boat related drowning during seal and whale hunts.  Because bright colors make the hunting difficult, natives refused to wear life jackets.  With a promise from community elders that if white life jackets were available they would wear them, the instructors worked with Mustang and the U.S. Coast Guard to change the way people in those communities view life jackets.

Through all of these initiatives and other programs, boating deaths in Alaska have decreased by 20% and the lives of at least 17 Alaskan children have been saved by a Kids Don’t Float life jacket over the past decade.

On behalf of the NASBLA membership and our entire, national maritime community we present the Alaska Office of Boating Safety with the 2010 NASBLA Compass Award.

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