Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Editorial: Arguments over life jackets are all wet

The Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has a simple request: That commercial sport fishing guides on the Kenai River require their clients to wear class III personal flotation devices. Parks wants to make the requirement one of the stipulations guides must agree to in order to get a Kenai River Commercial Guide Permit.

The Kenai River Professional Guide Association has some convoluted reasoning as to why that shouldn’t happen: It’s too expensive, not necessary and unfair.

In a meeting of the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board last week, Dave Goggia, vice president of the guide association, said it would “cost an awful lot” to put life jackets on boats for all clients — kids to 350-pound adults.

This from an organization that supported regulations requiring a switch from two-stroke to four-stroke motors on the river, despite the multiple thousands of dollars it costs to upgrade to a four-stroke. The guide association also didn’t complain about the costs involved in switching motors from 35 horsepower to 50 hp when that regulation went into effect. Yet the one-time expense of buying type III PFDs, which will last for years to come, is an onerous economic burden?

The Coast Guard already requires guides — and everyone else on the river — to carry type I PFDs, so some guides may already have the more substantial type III PFDs onboard. If they don’t, Trustworthy Hardware sells type III life jackets for about $50 a pop. If individual guides don’t want to buy enough PFDs on their own to supply whatever size clients they may get, then pool resources. Guides could maintain a stockpile of multiple sizes of PFDs to use to outfit clients, like the rafting companies on the upper Kenai do. When clients book trips — which is typically well in advance, so short notice is no excuse — have them specify what size PFD they’ll need.

Guides may be nervous about how the Lower 48’s economic crisis will affect business this summer, and rightfully so. If buying life jackets really does put that much crimp in a guide’s economic outlook, then do like most businesses and pass the cost on to clients. Adding just $2 onto the cost of a charter would recoup the cost of a $50 life jacket in 25 trips. Since most guides make two trips a day with multiple clients onboard, it would balance out in no time. And if an extra $2 is the breaking point between whether a client books a trip or not, guides have much bigger problems than PFDs to worry about this summer.

Goggia also argued that requiring clients to wear type III PFDs isn’t necessary. “We try to ensure safety on the river and we’re all about trying to be safe, but we don’t want to overdo it,” he was quoted as saying in the Peninsula Clarion.

Overdo it? How is wearing a suitable PFD overdoing it? Especially when there are kids and elderly passengers in the boats. It’s a good idea, even if the stipulation gets watered down to just requiring clients to wear type I life jackets. For healthy, fit adults wearing a proper PFD, a dunk in the glacial-fed, fast-moving waters of the Kenai is life threatening. Without one, it can easily be disastrous.

But the guides are being singled out, Goggia said. That much is true, but it’s not unreasonable for Parks to do so. As Jack Sinclair, area Parks superintendent, points out, Kenai River guides are the leaders in the industry. They set standards for everyone else. With guides leading the way in ensuring a higher level of safety on the river, it will pave the way for others to follow their example.

That should be a role guides aspire to, not bail on.

1 comment:

AKSmoke Salmon said...

With the same logic, we can expect that commercial fishers across the state, being role models and leaders in this state for water safety, will love the idea of the new mandatory requirements for wearing survival suits at all times while commercial fishing.

Mandatory actions should affect all user groups equally.

With zero deaths from drowning of clients in guides on the lower Kenai River, the evaluation for improvement after implementation of the requirement would hopefully be zero deaths.

This would show the mandatory action having a marked improvement rate of zero deaths.

At what point are we going to start talking about making boating safety classes mandatory on the Kenai for all users, not just guides. That is the biggest water safety concern on the lower Kenai River.