By Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News

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

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

LeConte ferry (J Weber, Creative-Commons)

LeConte ferry (J Weber, Creative-Commons)

Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the new rules focus on safety.

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

The new rules say anyone under 18 must travel with an adult. And 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,” he said. “And this prevents a 15- or 16-year-old from forging their parents’ signature and saying, yes, they’re allowed on board.”

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

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

“This was one that stood out as being outdated,” he said.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

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.

The policies will be enforced beginning November 20th.