Kelli Toth was born around the water, growing up on and around boats as a third-generation Alaskan in a very active family. That’s why, when given the opportunity, she joined the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Office of Boating Safety, an office dedicated to ensuring safe and enjoyable recreational boating in Alaska. “I had almost signed on the dotted line to get my Master’s degree in teaching when I saw the job listing. I saw, ‘Alaska, outdoors, boating, education’–ME! To this day my interviewer jokes that I interviewed HIM because I said, ‘this is my job.'”
Kelli has been the Education Specialist and Spokesperson for the Office of Boating Safety for 7 years to date, teaching boating safety statewide as a national authority on cold-water survival. As a board member with the National Water Safety Congress (NWSC), Kelli was recently asked to appear on The Weather Channel to discuss the topic of her expertise–cold water safety. You can watch the interview on Google Drive. Kelli is also a member of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA).
“A big part of my job is preparing Alaskans to be rescue-ready, to be ready for a recreational boating emergency,” Kelli says, “I am also the lead for the Kids Don’t Float program.” Kelli and her team travel across the state to cities as remote as Wainwright, Alaska to conduct classroom and pool sessions, replicating the kinds of scenarios that Alaska children and adults face out on the water. Their curriculum is top-of-the-line. “We work closely with international researchers to stay up-to-date on the latest discoveries. There are a lot of myths about hypothermia out there, and our goal is to correct them.”
Kelli says that the biggest impact comes from the one-on-one trainings. “There is nothing more powerful than watching a child terrified of the water put a lifejacket on, learn to trust it, and begin to relax in the pool. They grew up learning to stay away from the water because they were told that falling into cold water is deadly. Likewise, we get strong, confident, young men who have been around the water their whole life. We put them in a scenario and watch them struggle. They come away from the experience learning the dangers of the water. It’s all about behavior change,” she says, “And as much as possible, we will invest in these one-on-one interactions with Alaskans.”
Tomorrow, May 18th the Office of Boating Safety invites the public to the Wear Your Life Jacket to Work Day Celebration! The event will kickoff at noon at the Atwood Courtyard at 7th and E. Street in Anchorage, featuring special guest Kingikmiut dancers performing the “Float Coat Song.” Learn more at dnr.alaska.gov/parks/boating.