Fire departments remove boat after it swamps in Kenai River

Jul 20, 2020

Credit Kenai Fire Department

The Kenai and Nikiski fire departments worked together to remove a sunken boat from the mouth of the Kenai River late last night.

The boat reportedly swamped on Sunday due to the wake from another passing vessel near Kenai’s city dock. Many personal use dipnet fishermen float near the dock while they’re fishing, but it’s also a high-use area frequented by commercial boats and other sportfishing boats passing through. The boat that capsized Sunday was a twenty-foot alumaweld loaded with five to six people, said Kenai Fire Chief Tony Prior.

The people were all rescued successfully and the fire departments went back later for the boat. The Nikiski Fire Department maintains a dive crew, so the divers attached floats to the sunken vessel and the Kenai Fire Department helped haul it out and get it back to the owner. Prior said the department doesn’t usually do things like that, but the location where the boat sank could have presented a hazard to other boaters, which could have led to another capsizing.

The twenty-foot boat is larger than many people use in the dipnetting area. He said it’s a good example of the fact that the Kenai River and wake can be dangerous for anyone.

"When we have overturned boats, that’s generally what we see is boats that are not large enough or they’re overloaded with the amount of people," he said. "Every boat has a sticker in the back that’s rated for capacity of how many individuals or weight in the boat. People need to remember that that weight is going to be increased by the amount of fish you’re bringing into the boat, so the amount of people you have plus the weight of the fish is what you should be considering before you go out and dipnet."

The Kenai Fire Department does patrol a no-wake zone near the mouth of the river and conducts water rescues. Early Sunday morning, they were called out to a separate report of a person in the water near the city dock, floating down the river toward the inlet, but Prior said a good Samaritan boater was able to rescue the person.

Prior said this is the first report of a boat capsizing the department has responded to this year. In 2016, they responded to three, all near city dock, and in 2017 they helped respond to a runaway boat that was later found tangled in a setnet site in the inlet.

This upcoming weekend is likely to be a busy one for the Kenai River dipnet fishery, as it’s the last one before the fishery is scheduled to close on July 31. Prior urged everyone to be safe, including wearing lifejackets.

"As well as what you’re watching out for on your wakes, want to make sure that people have PFDs, personal flotation devices, on before they go out into the fishery," he said. "That has saved more people than anything right now. I know it’s cumbersome or some people think it’s cumbersome, but it will save your life. To make that a habit is a good habit to get into, making sure that before you step on the boat and get out on the water, that you have a PFD on."

The Kenai River personal use dipnet fishery is open every day until July 31 from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.