Drowning in Alaska: progress and persistent problems

Int J Circumpolar Health. 2010 Jun;69(3):253-64. doi: 10.3402/ijch.v69i3.17627. Epub 2010 Jun 1.


Objectives: The purpose of this study is to evaluate and describe the current problem of drowning in Alaska, measure changes in the rates since earlier studies have been done and compare occupational and non-occupational drowning characteristics.

Study design: This is a descriptive observational study, using existing records obtained from several sources to describe and compare drowning victims and event characteristics.

Methods: Drowning fatality data were collected from death certificates, law-enforcement reports and news articles. Descriptive statistics and risk ratios were calculated to compare levels of risk based on incident and victim characteristics.

Results: During 2000-2006, 402 unintentional drowning deaths, 108 of them occupational, occurred in Alaska, with an average annual fatality rate of 8.9 deaths per 100,000 Alaskans. The victim population was 86% male and 44% Alaska Native; 40% drowned in the south-west region of Alaska. For non-occupational cases with alcohol use documented, 33% were associated with alcohol consumption, as were 78% of those involved with all-terrain vehicle crashes. Only 17% of non-occupational victims who drowned while boating wore a Personal Flotation Device (PFD).

Conclusions: The drowning rate in Alaska during 2000-2006 was 8.9 drowning deaths per 100,000 population. This shows a decrease from the rate reported in a 1996 study, but several problems persist. Males and Alaska Natives had elevated risks for drowning. A substantial portion of fatalities were associated with alcohol consumption. PFD use remains low, and child drowning rates were unchanged from earlier studies. Increased data on water temperature and immersion time may help demonstrate the benefits of PFD use to those at risk. Social marketing efforts should be adapted for at-risk populations.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / statistics & numerical data
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alaska / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Drowning / epidemiology*
  • Drowning / etiology
  • Drowning / mortality
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male