Loaners save lives on lakesForgetting a life jacket can be a fatal mistake. “Drowning is the No. 1 cause of boating-related fatalities,” said Chuck Horn with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Last year, 23 people died in Wisconsin as a result of a boating accident and of those, 17 showed drowning as a primary or contributing factor.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Forgetting a life jacket can be a fatal mistake.
“Drowning is the No. 1 cause of boating-related fatalities,” said Chuck Horn with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Last year, 23 people died in Wisconsin as a result of a boating accident and of those, 17 showed drowning as a primary or contributing factor.
“Of those 17, only one person had a life jacket on.”
Since 1994, 13 children have drowned in boating-related accidents Wisconsin; 92 percent of those were not wearing life jackets.
“That 90 percent-plus statistic of drowning victims not wearing life jackets extends to all ages,” Horn said.
To increase boater safety, loaner life jacket stations will crop up at many Wisconsin waterways this year through a pilot program called “Kids Don’t Float.”
“This program is all about keeping everyone — especially kids — safe while out enjoying Wisconsin’s many rivers and lakes,” said Horn, the DNR acting boating law administrator heading the effort.
More than half a dozen stations are already in operation statewide, from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. Other scheduled stations include ones on the Pike Lake Chain in Iron River and at the Lake Nebagamon boat launch. Community groups, organizations or businesses build and maintain each loaner station. The DNR pays the estimated $1,300 start-up cost.
The Lake Nebagamon Lions Club is sponsoring the village station, which will hold about 36 life jackets of all sizes — infant to adult extra large.
“In reality, you’re trying to save lives,” said Don “Curt” Goltz, who is heading the project.
Failure to provide the proper number and/or type of life jackets is the No. 1 boating violation in Wisconsin, according to Horn.
“Many times, we encountered boaters who picked up friends etc., at the landing at the spur of the moment, and didn’t realize until after we checked them that they didn’t have enough life jackets for the extra people,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Goltz, who lives across from the village boat launch, met a man who was going to tow a jet ski across the lake with another jet ski. But he didn’t have a life jacket.
“I let him borrow one out of my boat,” said Goltz, who works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Once the Lake Nebagamon loaner station is in place, which may be as soon as this weekend, no one has to boat onto the lake without a life jacket. The station’s wide assortment of life jackets will also ensure everyone has a proper fit.
“Some folks are under the assumption that ‘one size fits all’ and have adult-sized life jackets on board for smaller children,” Horn said. “This provides a potentially dangerous situation as the child can slip out of the jacket, even with all the straps and zippers fastened.”
Goltz said youth can also use the loaner jackets while fishing on the nearby dock.
“It’s just wise, especially for kids,” he said.
Once boaters finish their voyage and children pack up their fishing gear, they are asked to return the life jacket to the station for the next person to use.
“This is definitely an honor program,” Horn said.
“Kids Don’t Float” is based on a successful life jacket program started in Homer, Alaska in 1996. Today, Alaska has more than 500 loaner stations statewide.
Wisconsin’s pilot program has been well received.
“Based on the success and interest, we hope to greatly expand this project next year and have several more potential partners lined up,” Horn said.
That would be fine with Goltz, who would like to see loaner stations at every lake.
For more information or to partner with the DNR to build and maintain a loaner station, email Horn at firstname.lastname@example.org.