CDPHP Collaborative News - Alaska wear-rate study — Kids Don’t Float Program - JUNE 2015

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Alaska Kids Don't Float Program

Safe and Healthy Me

JUNE 2015

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Alaska wear-rate study — Kids Don’t Float Program

Alaska Kids Don’t Float Program - Jewell Lake Loaner Board

Last fall, a dozen observers visited 21 Alaska communities and sat for hours at harbors, boat launches and lake shores to study the habits of recreational boaters: Did they strap on a life jacket before enjoying the open waters — regardless of the weather — or did they not? The study showed that almost half of all the boaters wore a life jacket when they were on the water; the percentage was higher for children ages 17 and younger.[1]

Much of Alaska is surrounded by water. We work and play in oceans, lakes and rivers, and we harvest a lot of food from the water. But open water can be dangerous. In the past 5 years, there were 61 fatalities due to drownings. Of those, 56% were not wearing a life jacket and 15% were children under the age of 17.[2] Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children and the third leading cause of unintentional injury death for teens in Alaska.[3]

Alaska’s Kids Don’t Float program has been a water safety program since 1996, loaning hundreds of personal flotation devices (PFDs) to children near water bodies throughout Alaska. State and federal laws say all children under the age of 13 must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD when in an open boat, on the deck of a boat or when water-skiing.

A coalition of agencies made up of the U.S. Coast Guard, State Office of Boating Safety, and the Department of Health and Social Services are the main coordinators and suppliers for Kids Don’t Float. It takes more than those three agencies to make the program as successful as possible, however. It is a grassroots collaborative effort made up of individuals, community groups and agencies. The program has grown to include more than 660 locations to store and lend life jackets across the state. This helps change the environment and make life jackets available to spontaneous boaters who may have forgotten their PFDs. A portion of boat registration fees now collected through the Boating Safety Law of 2000 are used to purchase life jackets for the Kids Don’t Float Loaner Board Program. Kids Don’t Float also provides education to children. The Office of Boating Safety recently celebrated water safety lessons taught to 100,000 students throughout the state.

There are two main components to the Kids Don’t Float program. The PFD Loaner Board Program allows anyone to borrow PFDs free of charge from loaner sites that are sponsored locally by agencies, groups or individuals who are committed to keeping their community safe.  PFD Loaner Boards can be found throughout the state at harbors, lakes, rivers and any open body of water for recreational use. The second component of Kids Don’t Float is the Ambassadors Program designed to involve high school age students. Through a certified Kids Don’t Float educator, high school students learn valuable concepts about water safety and proper PFD use. In return, these students share what they have learned with elementary school students.

To date, the Kids Don’t Float program has received reports of 24 young lives saved due to wearing life jackets from local loaner board sites. Alaska experienced a statistically significant decline in drowning death rates among adults and children during 2001 through 2010, according to a State of Alaska Epidemiology Bulletin.[4]

More work needs to be done to educate Alaska communities about the importance of wearing life jackets and learning about risk factors for drowning, such as alcohol use and leaving children unattended around water. Another study is tentatively planned for the summer of 2015 to collect more data about whether people are wearing PFDs when they are near open water. This information can improve water and boating safety programs throughout the state.


    1. Bailey, Maria. Department of Health and Social Services,  Alaska wear-rate study — Kids Don’t Float Program, May 2015.
    2. McCullough, Joseph E. Department of Natural Resources, Boating Accident Report Database, accessed March 2015.
    3. Hull-Jilly, Deborah C. State of Alaska Epidemiology, Alaska Drowning Surveillance System Database, accessed May 2015.
    4. State of Alaska Epidemiology.  State of Alaska Epidemiology Bulletin, Drowning Deaths in Alaska; June 3, 2014.


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