Safety isn’t an Option

With any activity or event, safety is of utmost concern but when boating is involved the level of preparedness should increase exponentially. And if children are present on the vessel, there’s never a limit to what you can do for their protection and yours. Thankfully, BoatUS as well as Sea Tow have answered the call with life jacket loaner programs at boat ramps and marinas around the country.


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Photo: BoatUs

I remember doing some crazy stuff as a kid but one of the only things my father passed on to me was a distinct command to always respect the water considering the water can claim your life within seconds. He was an oceanfront lifeguard, and the safety point has remained throughout my life, from the beach during high-surf days to being around docks with multi-million dollar yachts docked from slip to slip.

I remember doing some crazy stuff as a kid but one of the only things my father passed on to me was a distinct command to always respect the water considering the water can claim your life within seconds.

It’s obvious there are folks within BoatUS who share the same sentiment. This nonprofit organization was founded as an educational outreach that promotes safe and responsible boating. Since 1966, their mission toward stewardship of the nation’s waterways and an aim to reduce boating-related fatalities and accidents has been funded through grants and individual donations. It’s no wonder this innovative program should come to fruition under their guidance.

Here’s how the program works: Say you have an event to promote clean and safe boating, be it on one of the many lakes dotting the state or the open ocean, and there’s the need for an umbrella of safety in terms of life jackets. The expense of this endeavor might be too steep to absorb given the cash, scope and logistics of so many life jackets to provide, therefore putting your safe water or boating event in jeopardy. The cost of which ultimately might be a life lost in the absence of your educationally themed function.

On their website (, look for the tab titled “equipment rentals” and click. Within the drop-down menu are helpful guidelines, restrictions and an application to be filled out denoting the name of your organization and event. Required information includes your name and contact information, shipping address of the event, dates of the event by which you’ll need the life jackets delivered and when you can ship those back, and lastly the number of life jackets broken down by size.

BoatUS will not only provide the requested life jackets, but will extend the duration of need up to a week while footing the cost for shipping to the event. Included are kits bearing 12 life jackets in infant, child and youth sizes with accompanying return tags, publicity materials, a log book to record loan information and a weather-resistant storage bin. In turn, BoatUS’s few requests are that you pay for the life jackets’ timely return while crediting the organization at your event.

Additional related programs under the purview of BoatUS include the “Kids Afloat” program and the “Innovations in Life Jacket Design Competition.” With Kids Afloat, the foundation is set to provide applying nonprofit organizations the opportunity to purchase life jackets at a discounted rate of roughly $5 per jacket to be used during their on-the-water events and programs. (Mind you, the average retail price for life jackets stands at about $30 per jacket.) One stipulation is if the applying nonprofit does not promote safe boating or clean-water education as part of its mission, they must incorporate these topics into their programs in order to qualify before being awarded life jackets. Applicants can request up to 50 life jackets.

Also getting in on promoting safe boating habits without the need of filling out an online application, Sea Tow Foundation has taken to erecting stands at boat ramps across the country through a grant secured by the Sport Fish Restoration & Boating Trust Fund and administered under the U.S. Coast Guard. Since 2008, a boater can borrow a life jacket ramp-side while launching their vessel for those guests in need. Simply return the life jacket to the stand after use.

Like BoatUS, Sea Tow Foundation ( is a nonprofit that allows more than a dozen agencies and organizations to benefit from this loaner project. From Alva to Vero Beach, life jacket loaner stands are at the ready on a first come, first served basis. Your best bet is to launch early if there’s not enough life jackets to go around. For locations nearest you be they fresh or saltwater access points, visit for a comprehensive list of Florida sites.

In light of these efforts, responsible boaters cannot claim ignorance when it comes to life jackets and the need to have these on hand or deck. Often, the Coast Guard Auxiliary may perform a random Vessel Safety Check at your boat whether on the water or land to determine if your boating habits are up to standard and meet state and federal requirements. Citations can be issued if not in full compliance, as if safety is a choice on or around the water.

Life Jacket 101
With a variety of life jacket designs available, there’s a perfect fit for your particular needs.
– For children, weight determines the appropriate size.
– Life jackets should fit snug, yet allow users to move unrestricted.
– Straps should be pulled tight and not twisted.
– A properly fitting life jacket shouldn’t ride up over your chin while floating.
– Some life jacket designs include a strap between the legs.