This photo shows boats moored at Don D. Statter Harbor on a recent sunny day. According to statistics recently release by the U.S. Coast Guard, boating accidents were down in Alaska in 2021.(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

This photo shows boats moored at Don D. Statter Harbor on a recent sunny day. According to statistics recently release by the U.S. Coast Guard, boating accidents were down in Alaska in 2021.(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Boating fatalities trending down for 2021

Numbers met expectations, said safety instructors.

Last year’s boating casualties were down from 2020’s nationwide spike, according to the Coast Guard’s 2021 Recreational Boating Statistics report.

Alaska, which doesn’t have a mandatory boating education requirement, is nevertheless seeing a lot of people learn safety voluntarily, said Joe McCullough, the state’s boating law administrator for the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.

“We’re heading in the right direction. We’re seeing more people take classes,” McCullough said in an interview. “The partners, the attitudes — I think there’s a cultural shift and I hope people keep it up.”

There were only 14 boating fatalities in Alaska last year, said District 17 boating safety specialist Mike Folkerts in an interview. Five of those casualties were in the Southeast, according to the report.

“We don’t have high numbers of fatalities,” Folkerts said. “We have high percentages because we have a low population.”

Of the 658 deaths for recreational boaters in 2021 across the U.S. and its far-flung territories, the highest total was Florida with 61, followed by Texas with 58, according to the report.

“Our numbers are never that high. Anything in the 20s range is high for us. But that’s nothing for somewhere like Florida, California, Michigan,” McCullough said. “Overall we’ve seen a marked decrease from when the boating safety act was passed in 1998. We were averaging close to 30 fatalities a year. Now we’re closer to 15 a year.”

[Boating safety, better lake than never]

Through knowledge, seapower

Both McCullough and Folkerts pointed out how programs like Kids Don’t Float are reflected in Alaska’s flotation device use numbers and in declining casualties over the years.

“Our (life jacket) wear rate for 13-18 year olds is 4-5 times the national average. That was not the case in 2000,” McCullough said. “Now, we’re seeing it go to adults. Those kids are growing. It’s like seatbelts. We’re seeing a change in the culture.”

Casualties have been shifting from motorboats to more paddlecraft, such as stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and canoes, Folkerts said.

“I base our programs around our fatality demographics,” Folkerts said. “That’s why we’re shifting a little more toward paddlecraft.”

Paddlecraft are not required to be registered in the state of Alaska, which is also one of the only states without a mandatory boater safety education program, Folkerts said. However, many adults have voluntarily reached out for boater safety courses, McCullough said.

“Education isn’t mandatory but we have people begging for training. I was afraid we were going to lose staff this spring because we were so overworked. We were kind of prepared for the schools to reengage after two years,” McCullough said. “That was what put them over the top — all the requests for adult training.”

Alaska’s first recreational boater casualty of the year was a kayaker near Chitina, according to Folkerts — a very late date in the year for the first casualty, especially considering the number of people on the water.

“I was pleasantly surprised that was our first fatal, given how many people on the water,” McCullough said. “We’re seeing more boating in the last couple years than we saw before.”

Both the Coast Guard and the state try to train as many people as request training as possible, McCullough said, even if it’s in a hard-to-reach location.

“We don’t turn down any reasonable request. We don’t turn down these communities just because they’re small or expensive,” McCullough said. “We don’t show up uninvited. We’re always demand-based; we’re invited out there. So if Sand Point or Clark’s Point ask, we show up.”

The next major step would be a state regulation mandating boater education, Folkerts said.

“We’re doing what we can with what we have,” Folkerts said. “Once we get some mandatory education, that’s really going to make a difference.”

Page 63 of Recreational-Boating-Statistics-2021

Contributed to DocumentCloud by Ben Hohenstatt (Juneau Empire) • View document or read text

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Jan. 29

Bus drivers picket outside the bus barn in Wasilla, Alaska on Jan. 26, 2023. Bus drivers in Alaska’s second-largest school district have gone on strike after delivering students to classes on Tuesday,  Jan. 31, citing unfair labor practices. (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News)
Mat-Su school bus drivers strike

ANCHORAGE — Bus drivers in Alaska’s second-largest school district went on strike… Continue reading

The Juneau School District’s recently announced its new directors of teaching and learning support and student services who are set to start in their positions in July. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
District selects new directors for teaching and learning support and student services

The new directors will take over their roles in the district in July.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The final Boeing 747 lands at Paine Field following a test flight, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Everett, Wash. Boeing bids farewell to an icon on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, when it delivers the jumbo jet to cargo carrier Atlas Air. Since it debuted in 1969, the 747 has served as a cargo plane, a commercial aircraft capable of carrying nearly 500 passengers, and the Air Force One presidential aircraft, but it has been rendered obsolete by more profitable and fuel-efficient models. (Jennifer Buchanan / The Seattle Times)
Boeing bids farewell to an icon, delivers last 747 jumbo jet

SEATTLE — Boeing bid farewell to an icon on Tuesday: It’s delivering… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

President Joe Biden talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, after returning from an event in Baltimore on infrastructure. (AP Photo / Susan Walsh)
Biden to end COVID-19 emergencies on May 11

The move would formally restructure the federal coronavirus response.

Carla Casulucan, shareholder relations manager for Huna Totem Corp., gives public testimony Monday night in support of the Huna Totem development and urged the city to vote against an ordinance that would have allowed the city to spend $300,000 to help plan the location of a proposed cruise ship dock at the downtown subport. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
City decides against spending on cruise ship dock planning

Assembly votes down ordinance after more than a dozen public comments against it.

Most Read