Officials: Life vests could save many lives in Alaska

The life jacket loaner station at the Peger Road boat launch behind Pioneer Park Saturday afternoon, August 21, 2010. News-Miner Photo

Alaska 529 and the Alaska Boating Safety Program partnered for an initiative to keep Alaska youth safe by lowering the high rate of childhood drowning deaths in the state.

As part of the Use Your PFD Wisely initiative, Alaska 529 (a college savings plan program) purchased more than 6,200 new personal flotation devices (PFDs). These life jackets will be distributed to the nearly 700 Kids Don’t Float loaner stations statewide throughout the summer; some as early as within the next month. The new life jackets will display the message “use your PFD wisely” along with Alaska 529’s logo, as will the refreshed loaner board signs.

The Kids Don’t Float program keeps Alaska children safe by providing free life jackets for borrowing near bodies of water. The hope is that having life jackets readily available will remind and encourage kids to wear them before boating.

According to Kids Don’t Float Instructor Olivia Drown, the program has saved at least 36 lives thus far. Drown explained that personal floatation devices have traditionally been used as a substitute for swimming ability. However, floatation devices are important for even the most adept swimmers, particularly in frigid Alaska waters. “... With an increased understanding of the dangerous effects of cold water immersion, many Alaskan boaters are now realizing the importance of always wearing a life jacket when in an open boat or on deck, even for good swimmers,” Drown said.

Lael Oldmixon, executive director for Alaska 529, explained the initiative’s name, a play on the other famous Alaskan PFD acronym — Permanent Fund Dividend.

“Each year we tell people to use their [Permanent Fund Dividend] wisely. Well, the exact same message can apply to Personal Flotation Devices, Alaskans should always use them wisely when around water. We’re delighted to bring two important PFD programs to Alaska youth,” said Oldmixon.

Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 459-7544.