State river boating course to include Kenai unit

The statewide boating safety course will soon include a Kenai River-specific unit.

Water Wise, the Alaska boating safety course for recreational boaters, is free for all Alaskans and fulfills most states’ safety education requirements. It covers topics from departure, boat prep and emergencies to cold-water survival, navigation and legal requirements. It takes between six and eight hours to complete and qualifies as continuing medication education for emergency medical technicians.

However, the Kenai is the most utilized river in the state, and some have asked the state to require an extra certification for safety and responsibility on the river in the past. Joe McCullough, the program coordinator for Water Wise in the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation’s Office of Boating Safety, said the Kenai-specific course is now in the works.

The Office of Boating Safety plans to get the course nationally certified through the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, McCullough said.

“We are going to do it,” McCullough said. “We have a NASBLA approved course already. … I’m developing a module, an extra, to that NASBLA course.”

Ideally, it would not add time to the program beyond an eight-hour day, he said. However, the national standards have changed to only require a four- to six-hour day.

McCullough said he thought the Kenai unit would be an hour or two added to a four- to six-hour day, making it easier for participants to take it rather than having to come back on a separate day.

The course would be free in person, just like the Water Wise course, but McCullough mentioned another option: private companies offering it online for a $25 fee. The office is still working on developing it and will work with the private providers on the content and delivery.

“They’re willing to do it, I’m going to help them,” McCullough said. “But if people take it, they’ll be charged a fee.”

When he presented the idea for the course to the Kenai River Special Management Area board, several board members expressed support. Keith Baxter, the representative from the City of Soldotna, said adding a Kenai River safety course could reduce boating accidents on the river.

Jack Blackwell, the park superintendent with the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation for Soldotna, suggested offering an incentive for boaters to take the class. As boating safety courses are not mandatory in the state, he suggested offering an incentive such as a free launch from one of the boat launches in the area to entice potential participants.

“Right now, we’re charging folks $20 for a launch at Eagle Rock and the Pillars, so there may be a way that we could provide some incentive,” Blackwell said. “That might encourage participation.”

McCullough asked the board to consider officially endorsing the course to make it more legitimate. As there were not enough members of the board present at the December meeting to have a quorum, the board could not vote on any official action, so the decision was postponed to a future meeting.

McCullough also asked the board members for suggestions on what they wanted included in the course.

“It’s going to happen anyways, so I want to know what you want in the course, otherwise I have to write it,” McCullough said. “I know what I want to put in it, and it’s probably a lot of what you want, but let’s get some feedback from the different entities and make it a Kenai River-specific course.”

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