Sooner or later in our boating ventures, law enforcement officers will stop us and check our vessels for all the necessary safety equipment. If we are lacking any of the required equipment, a ticket or warning is written and our day on the water may come to an abrupt end. This is particularly true if you do not have enough personal flotation devices or appropriately sized ones for younger boaters aboard. Thanks to a program set up by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office on Florida’s West Coast, boaters could be spared from a citation and a shortened day on the water.
Operation Kid Float, which loans life jackets to boaters in need, has been instituted and run by the sheriff’s marine unit. It is funded by a portion of an $87,025 grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission given to promote boat safety within the county and state.
Patrolling officers have been supplied with jackets aboard their vessels and can loan them to boaters in need after a safety inspection. There are also stations set up in four parts of the county with large signs explaining the program. A selection of life vests that can be borrowed for the day are stored on pegs attached to the sign.
Locations include a popular marina at John’s Pass in the center of the county, Fort DeSoto boat ramp at the south end of the county, John Chestnut Park (on Lake Tarpon, the largest lake in the county) and at Dunedin Marina at the northern end of the county. Several sizes of jackets are available so a proper fit can be accomplished. Once the day on the water is over the vests can be returned to a drop-off location where they are collected, rinsed off and redistributed to the various stations.
Florida law requires an appropriately sized life jacket for each person on board, and children six and under are required to wear the life jacket while on any boat of 26 feet or less while underway in state waters.
One boater who experienced the program first-hand was stopped by a marine officer who discovered that he did not have a sufficient number of appropriately sized jackets for some guests and their kids onboard. The officer gave him the option of ending their boat trip, getting a citation, or proceeding to a nearby loaner station and grabbing the vests they needed to become compliant. That boater is now a fan of the program and said, “It’s a great program that saved our day.”
It may not only save your day and your wallet but it may just save the life of a child on board.
OTHER LIFE SAVERS:
A life jacket loaner program the Boat US Foundation launched in 1998 has since grown to more than 500 locations including marinas, fuel docks, Boat US towing operators and other waterfront businesses. More than 140,000 jackets are loaned each year.
Approximately 40 new locations are put in place by the foundation annually. Each location is supplied with 12 life jackets, signs, brochures and a sign-out binder. Jackets can be borrowed from these locations for the day and returned back to the same location at the end of the day. The foundation funded some states to establish programs similar to the one in Pinellas County. Demand for jackets is always higher than the available number provided by the Boat US Foundation, so donations are welcome. A donation of $10 could help purchase one of the much-needed life vests. Find details of the program, how to donate and your state life jacket requirements at www.boatus.com/foundation/ljlp/.
Another organization that has launched a similar program is the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. In Corpus Christi, Texas, the group has a large sign for a loaner program with a box of life jackets attached to it. The back of the sign includes a boating safety quiz.