Yesterday, the Alaska Marine Highway and Alaska Department of Transportation issued a new policy regarding unaccompanied minors traveling aboard their ferries. As of November 20, 2014, all children under the age of 18 must travel with a parent, legal guardian, or other individual at least 18 years of age who also carries a notarized letter of permission to accompany the child. Read the entire policy, HERE.
At first blush, this new policy would appear to be a step in the right direction to keep young ferry travelers safe while on board the ferries. Stewards and crew already do a great job of making sure kids understand the rules; no running, let’s not climb on the railings, and for gosh sakes, the bar is off-limits…that sort of enforcement.
For the casual Alaska visitor or resident who embarks upon family vacations utilizing the Alaska Marine Highway, this new policy is likely to be moot; most kids travel with their parents in these situations, so reservations and boarding/disembarking should be seamless.
But what if kids aren’t with their parents? This is where it might get tricky for those not reading the policy closely.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, anyone who is not the legal parent or guardian of a child in your group: You must carry a notarized letter of permission from that legal parent/guardian. If you don’t, boarding will be denied. Get that? Denied. Which means, if you’ve flown to Juneau or driven to Haines to catch a ferry to Bellingham with your grandchild, or your son brings a buddy along for the trip (our likely scenario), a notarized letter must be practically stapled to the kid to ensure boarding.
A letter can be simple, according to my research, and very similar to that for crossing the Canadian border; in fact, the same letter can be used in both situations. “I certify I am the parent/guardian of child….xxxxx….and this child has my permission to travel with…xxxxx….individual, an adult, to…..xxxxx…..destination between the dates of…xxxxx…..and….xxxxx….., signed, dated, and notarized.” Where can you get a letter notarized? Practically anywhere these days; a bank, many offices, maybe even your own employer has a notary. I laminate copies of letters like this, especially with travel involved, and my penchant for spilling things or having rain dissolve signatures. Keep the note with passports (a must if you’re traveling through Canada) and other important documents, and leave a copy at home or with a trusted friend in the event it gets lost and you need a quick fax.
Do I approve of this new policy? Mostly. I understand the overarching theme of ensuring safety of children aboard ferries. The blue canoes travel thousands of miles to very remote locations, including another country, and thus the policy makes sense on the surface.
It is, however, going to add a clunky and unfamiliar procedural layer to ferry travel, however, and this will take time to both enforce on the part of AMHS, and become habit with Alaskans who travel aboard Alaska Marine Highway System vessels.
Let us know your thoughts on the new AMHS Unaccompanied Minor policy; and how you plan to make it work for your family or community. I’d welcome some vigorous discussion on the topic.