Partner Profile: Arizona Game & Fish Department

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This blog post is the first in a series celebrating the great work of our Safe Boating Campaign partners. We interviewed Kim Jackson and Josh Hoffman from Arizona Game & Fish Department to learn about their boating and life jacket safety efforts and what they have planned for National Safe Boating Week. Thank you to Arizona Game & Fish Department for all that you do! Learn more about boating in Arizona.

Q: What are some of the things that the Arizona Game & Fish Department does on a regular basis to ensure safe boating and life jacket safety throughout the state of Arizona?

A: Since most of Arizona enjoys year-round warm weather throughout much of the state, we conduct monthly hands-on paddlesports classes as well as classroom boating safety classes for our residents. We also hold paddlesports classes on request for Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW), school groups, 4H, Sea Scouts, state agencies, and other local groups. Hosting a booth at community events is a great way for us to get the word out about safe boating and life jacket safety throughout the year. We also have 16 life jacket loaner stations that are always fully stocked and monitored. Making contact with boaters on the water is also important for us. Our team is out on the water in kayaks and boats sharing about boating safety with others. We also provide ramp outreach at various lakes and on the Colorado River.

Q: Last year your department exchanged 1,520 life jackets, conducted 49 paddle classes, 27 powerboat classes, and distributed nearly 36,000 recreational boating safety handouts in support of the Safe Boating Campaign. What do you have planned for this year?

A: We’ll continue these efforts this summer, and look forward to sharing with boaters about how being a responsible boater contributes to a great experience on the water. We are rolling out a new stand-up paddleboard class modeled after our kayak class, which we are really excited about!

Q: What do you have planned for National Safe Boating Week (May 18-24, 2019) or activities later in the summer?

A: We’re excited to support the Safe Boating Campaign during National Safe Boating Week and the rest of the year. We will be launching seven life jacket exchanges on May 18 to kick-off National Safe Boating Week with more to follow throughout the summer. Boating safety classes will also take place at various locations, and we’ll share lots of great boating information on social media during the week. We’re also looking forward to Wear Your Life Jacket to Work Day on May 17, so be on the lookout for some fun photos from us!

Q: How did you get so many people to exchange life jackets? What does that program involve?

A: The exchange program has grown primarily through word of mouth. This is an opportunity for Arizona residents to exchange an inherently buoyant style jacket for the same size or a different size. The program requires volunteers to pick up life jackets from us and be at assigned locations for the event, handle the exchanges, and return any leftover life jackets to our program along with numbers of exchanged life jackets by size. Residents can exchange as many as they need until the life jackets are gone. We’re blessed with great volunteers who help make this program possible.

We believe we are making an impact because of the growth of the program in Arizona, and interest from other state agencies, the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, and city chambers to begin an exchange program.

Q: Do you have any stories of Arizona residents that have who have benefited from these programs?

A: There was an incident last June where a nine-year-old girl was tubing on Salt River with her family and suddenly hit heavy rapids which flipped her over multiple times underwater. Fortunately, she was wearing her life jacket which her family believes saved her life. While we don’t know if Elly and her family were wearing their life jackets as a result of one of our programs, this story aligns with our mission. Learn more about Elly’s story.

Q: What are your top 2-3 safety tips for people who are looking to enjoy time on the water?

A: Our #1 tip is ALWAYS wear a life jacket, don’t stow it. Also, don’t boat above your ability. When learning to drive, we don’t start on the interstate, we start in a parking lot. Take the time to get to know your boat and equipment in a calm and safe area. We encourage new boaters to take an on-water class – they’ll likely be surprised at what they don’t know. And, boat defensively. Never assume the other boater can see you or that he/she knows what they are doing.

Q: Since the weather can be so warm in many parts of Arizona, do you have any tips for boating safely in the heat?

A: It’s critical that both boaters and passengers stay hydrated and keep in mind that soda and alcohol are a poor choice for primary hydration. Never boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Also, be prepared as there is always a chance of breakdown on the water. It’s important to plan to have extra water and shade options to keep you and your family safe. Even in extreme temperatures, it’s important for both children and adults to wear life jackets. Adults should consider an inflatable life jacket which is more lightweight and cool compared to an inherently buoyant life jacket.