Vessel safety checks are free this weekend

A fishermen shows Coast Guard inspectors the life jackets on his power troller in 2015. (Juneau Empire file)

A fishermen shows Coast Guard inspectors the life jackets on his power troller in 2015. (Juneau Empire file)

Own a skiff, dinghy, catamaran, sloop, longboat, cruiser, cuddy, coracle or DIY duct-taped inflatable? Whatever type of watercraft — and Juneauites have many — the U.S. Coast Guard wants to help keep it and its passengers safe.

This weekend, the USCG will inspect recreational and commercial fishing boats for free at an open house Saturday and Sunday. From 11 a.m.-3 p.m. each day, vessel owners can bring their boats by for a free vessel safety inspection. Coast Guard Sector Juneau commercial fishing vessel examiners and Coast Guard Auxiliary recreational vessel safety examiners will answer boating questions and provide complimentary vessel safety checks, as well as answer questions about Coast Guard operations.

State and federal law requires boaters have certain safety equipment on board depending on the type of boat and the time and place they’re boating, said USCG recreational boating safety specialist Mike Folkert. One thing stays the same: all recreational boats must have properly-fitted, serviceable life jackets for each passenger, Folkert said. Kids under 13 must wear life jackets while on an open deck. A full list of requirements can be found at and in the Alaska Boater’s Handbook.

Voluntary recreational vessel checks are non-punitive, Folkert explained, and conducted by citizen volunteers. The idea is that boat owners have a chance to learn how they can bring their boats into compliance before they get out on the water. The Coast Guard could levy a fine to a boater who isn’t following the rules; voluntary checks are a way to avoid that.

Those who undergo voluntary checks receive a sticker they can put on their vessels, Folkert said. The USCG is more often more lenient when inspecting vessels that have the sticker.

A sticker, “Doesn’t mean you won’t be stopped by the Coast Guard, but if the Coast Guard is out there and doing inspections, they could go to the next guy,” when they see a sticker, Folkert said.

Recreational boating fatalities have declined on a long-term trend since 2002, Folkert said. Seven boaters died in Alaska in 2015 and 16 died in 2016, the last two years for which statistics are available.

Folkert linked the trend to the passage of the Safe Boating Act in 2002. Alaska was the last state or territory to pass the act, Folkert said.

If you have any questions about the event ahead of time, please contact Petty Officer 1st Class Mike Klosterman at 907-463-2365.

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.

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