Ferry System Limits Solo Travel By Kids, Teenagers

The Alaska Marine Highway System will no longer allow children and teenagers under 18 to travel solo.

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The current rules place no restrictions on 16- and 17-year-olds. Solo ferry travelers 12 to 15 need a note from a parent or guardian. Kids under 12 must travel with an adult, but it can be anyone.

Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the new rules focus on safety.

“We are on large ships, we’re on open ocean. If they’re unsupervised, different accidents could happen, especially if we’re in rough weather,” he says.

The new rules say anyone under 18 must travel with an adult. That adult must be a parent, legal guardian or have notarized authorization from a parent or guardian.

Minors traveling as part of chaperoned youth groups, such as school sports teams, are exempt. So are teens who are married or legally emancipated.

Woodrow says there’s a reason for requiring permission slips to be notarized.

“There have been instances where runaways have been aboard the ferry system. And this prevents a 15- or 16-year-old from forging their parents’ signature and saying, yes, they’re allowed on board,” he says.

He says the rules will also help protect children from being assaulted or abused while on a ferry.

The policies will be enforced beginning Nov. 20.

Woodrow says the rules were changed as part of an ongoing policy review.

“This was one that stood out as being outdated. [It was] time to be renewed and brought up more to current standards and expectations of what travelers expect on a public transportation system,” Woodrow says.

He says no one incident led to the change. But he says the old policy created a risk for children and a potential liability for the ferry system.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.