With the summer boating, kayaking and commercial fishing seasons heating up, the State of Alaska has released a report showing that the Last Frontier has the highest rate of drowning deaths in the nation.

Across the U.S., drowning mortality increased by nearly 12% over the past decade, with an average annual age-adjusted rate of 1.24 drownings per 100,000 persons. In 2021, Alaska’s drowning rate was far higher at 7.3 victims per 100,000 persons. That’s the highest in the country.

According to a new Alaska Department of Health report, Alaska had 342 drowning deaths between 2016 and 2021. This data was derived from death certificates, medical examiner records, and law enforcement reports.

The vast majority of these deaths (292) were non-occupationally related, with the most common contributing factor being drug or alcohol use, followed by falling from a vessel or a dock. Of these non-occupational drownings, 113 involved boating activities, 114 were in a river or creek, 77 were in the ocean or harbor, 36 were in a lake or slough, and 34 were in a hot tub or a bathtub.

Twelve deaths were among children younger than nine years who were unattended immediately prior to the incident. Forty-four (or 13%) drownings were due to either intentional self-harm, assault or undetermined intent.

Only 49 drownings were classified as occupational.

Southwest and Northern regions of the state recorded the highest drowning rates (31.1 and 26.8 drownings per 100,000 persons, respectively).

Drowning rates continue to be particularly high among males and people living in rural regions of Alaska.

The state report recommends that all children be taught how to swim and flip on their backs, and that people wear personal floatation devices when on the water. Other recommendations include paying close attention to weather forecasts, filing a written float plan, being trained in how to cross open and frozen waterways, and having a clear understanding of cold-water safety practices.

Click here to support Alaska Watchman reporting.

Alaska’s drowning death rate is highest in the nation

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.