Eagle River educator nets boating safety award

Monday, October 23, 2017 - 15:48
  • Eagle River resident Kelli Toth receives the 2017 Boating Safety Educator of the Year award from the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators for her work with the Alaska Office of Boating Safety. (Courtesy photo)

An Eagle River woman is making waves for her work educating Alaskans about boating safety.

Kelli Toth, a program assistant with the Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Boating Safety, recently received a 2017 Boating Safety Educator of the Year award from the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. Since she joined the Alaska office in 2011, more than 75,000 have participated in Kids Don’t Float water safety classes, according to DNR. That number continues to grow.

“I see a great increase in demand for classes,” Toth said.

The Kids Don’t Float program – which also provides life jacket loaner boards at 600 waterfronts around Alaska – teaches boating basics, safety laws and cold-water survival skills to youth around the state. It includes several components, including an ambassador program that trains high school students to be boating safety leaders in their own communities, Toth said.

State statute mandates children under 13 wear a personal flotation device (PFD) while in a boat – older Alaskans are only required to have one readily accessible. The Kids Don’t Float program aims to form life-saving habits among Alaska’s young boaters, Toth said.

“We’re empowering students to have that knowledge,” she said. “Our kids are on the water all the time.”

In 2016, Alaska reported a higher boating fatality rate than most other states in the country, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety. Nineteen people died in 14 separate incidents last year, according to USCG.

To combat that standing and spread boating safety knowledge to communities across the state, Toth trains with the U.S. Coast Guard in Anchorage and Juneau, Alaska State Troopers, Village Public Safety Officers, schools and nonprofits and other agencies and organizations. She’s also a member of a national committee helping shape educational standards, utilizing a public health approach to injury prevention, she said.

The recent NASBLA award was a surprise, she said.

“It’s quite an honor to be recognized on a national level like that,” Toth said.

More important, she said, is the level of coordination and cooperation between boating safety administrators across the country. Their work to build sustainable programming and teach boating safety basics will help make Alaska waters safer for generations of boaters to follow, she said. That’s what Kids Don’t Float is all about, she said.

“These will be the students who will be the operators of tomorrow,” Toth said.

More information about the Office of Boating Safety and its Kids Don’t Float program is available at www.AlaskaBoatingSafety.org.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the ages children are legally required to wear PFDs.

Contact Star reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com

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