An Epidemiology Bulletin titled “Drowning Deaths in Alaska, 2016-2021” published Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (Screenshot)

An Epidemiology Bulletin titled “Drowning Deaths in Alaska, 2016-2021” published Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (Screenshot)

Health officials say Alaska leads nation in drowning deaths, urge safe practices

A majority of non-occupational Alaska drownings occur in relation to boating, both for recreation and for subsistence

Alaska led the nation in the rate of drowning deaths in 2021, according to an Epidemiology Bulletin published by the Department of Health on Wednesday.

The bulletin describes drowning as “a leading cause of unintentional injury mortality” in the United States. It says that nationally, the average number of drowning deaths has increased in the last decade. In Alaska, the drowning rate from 2016 to 2021 has “remained largely consistent,” but in 2021 Alaska had the highest drowning rate in the country.

The national age-adjusted average rate of drownings is 1.24 drownings per 100,000 people. In Alaska, in 2021, the corresponding statistic was 7.3. That rate was much higher in certain regions, like in the Southwest, which includes the Aleutian Chain, where the rate was 31.4, the Northern at 24.8 and the Southeast at 12.4.

The Gulf Coast region, which includes the Kenai Peninsula Borough, had 25 drownings between 2019 and 2021, for a rate of 10.2.

The release notes that a majority of non-occupational Alaska drownings occur in relation to boating, both for recreation and for subsistence. From 2016-2018, there were 71 such drownings, representing nearly half of all drownings in the state. From 2019-2021, there were 42, representing around 30%.

Though the rate of drownings while boating decreased between the two periods, the bulletin notes that the proportion of these drownings that involved people who weren’t wearing personal flotation devices increased significantly.

Other activities connected to drownings were swimming, which accounted for around 20% of Alaska drownings; the use of ATVs and snowmachines, which accounted for 15%; and bathing at 14%.

From 2016-2018, 5% of drowning deaths were attributed to bathing, and the 14% in the more recent period was described as a “notable increase.” These deaths resulted from either a medical condition or the loss of consciousness, it says. Most of those deaths involved the use of alcohol or drugs.

The majority of drownings in Alaska affect men and those in rural areas. In the more recent period, more than four times as many men died in drownings as women. The majority of deaths were in the age groups 15-24 and 25-44.

To reduce the number of drownings in the state, the bulletin says that children should be closely supervised around water, and that they should be taught how to swim — including how to transition into a float on their backs.

While boating, the bulletin sways, personal flotation devices should be worn, alcohol and drugs should not be used, weather forecasts should be consulted, and users should have “a clear understanding of cold-water safety practices.” A “Float Plan” can be provided to a trusted person with information about the vessel and its itinerary for reporting an emergency if a check-in is missed.

Children’s swimming lessons are being offered this summer at the Kenai Central High School Pool, the Skyview Middle School Pool and at the Nikiski Pool. An adult learn to swim program is run by Top of the World Swimming. For more information, visit,, or

For more information about boating safety and children’s water safety education visit

Reach reporter Jake Dye at

More in News

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Candidate Bill Elam waves signs on election day on Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voters take to the polls during Tuesday municipal election

Poll workers report low turnout across the central peninsula

Some of the pumpkins submitted to the pumpkin-decorating contest are seen here during the 5th annual Kenai Fall Pumpkin Festival in Kenai, Alaska, on Oct. 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)
Kenai’s Fall Pumpkin Fest set for Saturday

The fun actually starts early, as a central element of the festival is a pumpkin decorating contest already underway

Aurora Borealis Charter School Art and Music Teacher Eleanor Van Sickle leads students in a performance of "Autumn Canon," a Hungarian song at a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education meeting on Monday, Oct. 2, 2023 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Student serenade

Aurora Borealis Charter School students sing at the assembly during the regular school board meeting on Monday

Bear 747, defending Fat Bear Week Champion, stands on the bank of the Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska. The winner of a Thursday matchup between Bear 128 Grazer and Bear 151 Walker will meet 747 in Fat Bear Week competition on Saturday. (Photo courtesy C. Cravatta/National Park Service)
Survival of the fattest

Paunchy ursine competitors go head-to-head in annual Fat Bear Week

Soldotna Elementary School Principal Dr. Austin Stevenson walks amid natural gas pipes anchored to the outside of school on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
High costs stall work on school bond

A cost estimate for the reconstruction of Soldotna Elementary School came back $13.5 million over budget

(City of Seward)
Police standoff closes Seward Highway

Police say standoff was with ‘barricaded individual,’ not escaped inmate

Mount Redoubt can be seen across Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska not included in feds’ proposed 5-year oil and gas program

The plan includes a historically low number of proposed sales

A copy of "People, Paths, and Places: The Frontier History of Moose Pass, Alaska" stands in sunlight in Soldotna, Alaska, on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Moose Pass to receive award for community historical effort

“People, Paths, and Places: The Frontier History of Moose Pass, Alaska” was a collaboration among community members

Most Read