FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 29, 2021) — With the recreational boating season underway, the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is launching a new program designed to save lives on Kentucky waterways.
The department is working with local groups and other public agencies to build and maintain life jacket loaner stations, providing boaters with free access to borrowable life jackets.
The first five life jacket loaner stations will be installed at access points adjacent to waterways in Anderson, Madison, Monroe and Warren counties.
“We are fortunate in the Commonwealth to have an abundance of places to enjoy a day on the water, and I am grateful for those who have come on board to support such an important boating safety initiative,” Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Rich Storm said. “The statistics don’t lie; wearing a life jacket can save your life when the unexpected happens on the water.
“I’m confident that others will see the value in providing life jacket loaner stations at waterbodies in their communities. I encourage prospective partners to contact us to help offer this life-preserving resource at more locations across Kentucky.”
Kentucky law requires each occupant of a boat to have ready access to a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket that has the proper weight rating. The department recommends that everyone wear a life jacket while boating. Children younger than 12 must wear a life jacket while in the open portion of a boat that is underway.
The life jacket loaner stations will be stocked with assorted sizes of U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets provided by the Sea Tow Foundation, and display signage with instructions on how to properly fit and wear a life jacket. Boaters may borrow the life jackets at no cost. The stations will be monitored and inspected regularly.
As part of their jobs, conservation officers with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife work to ensure that the state’s waterways are a safe place for all to enjoy by utilizing a two-pronged approach consisting of education and enforcement. The summer boating season keeps them busy.
“So many bad situations and tragic outcomes on the water can be avoided by wearing a life jacket,” said Col. Eric Gibson, Law Enforcement Division director for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “If you’ve forgotten to bring your life jacket, or don’t own one, this program eliminates that barrier to safe and legal boating.”
Coast Guard-approved lifejackets come in a variety of forms, from compact inflatable types that expand when wet to more economical, rigid types that maintain their full buoyancy all the time. Nearly 90 percent of drowning victims in recreational boating accidents were not wearing a life jacket, according to national statistics from the Coast Guard.
Lakes, rivers and streams were popular destinations in 2020, heavily used by recreational motor-boaters, paddlers and swimmers. Tragically, dozens of people drowned in Kentucky waterways last year and the overwhelming majority of the victims was not wearing a life jacket. So far this year, there have been 29 deaths on Kentucky waters.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife supplies the necessary signage, life jackets and building plans for the life jacket loaner stations. Citizen groups or other public agencies obtain the necessary materials and build the informational kiosks to meet the specifications developed and provided by the department.
“It is a commitment but it’s for a very important cause,” said Marcus Bowling, boating education coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “If one life is saved because somebody had access to a life jacket from one of these stations, it will be well worth the effort.”
Donors will be recognized with a sticker placed beside the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife logo on the front of the station’s sign.
“The Warren County Parks and Recreation Department is excited to partner on another great program with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife,” Warren County Parks and Recreation Department Executive Director Chris Kummer said. “The life jacket loaner stations that are being created will greatly enhance the ability of the public to have a safer experience on waters accessible within our park system. Working together, we continue to strive to offer the citizens and visitors to Warren County with the safest recreational experiences while enjoying our public waterways.”
Other locations in Phase 1 of the Life Jacket Loaner Station program where Kentucky Fish and Wildlife would like to establish stations include Benjy Kinman Lake, Green River (upper), Bullock Pen Lake, Corinth Lake, Kincaid Lake, McNeely Lake, New Kingfisher Lake, Shawnee Park, Washburn Lake, Higginson-Henry WMA, Cedar Creek Lake, Mill Creek Lake and Lake Beshear.
Individuals or groups interested in partnering with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife on a new life jacket loaner station may complete an application form available on fw.ky.gov. If you have questions about the form, contact Marcus Bowling at [email protected] or 1-800-858-1549.