FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla - Boaters at the Dee Dee Bartels boat ramp in Fernandina Beach now have access to life vests to take out on the water and then return, free of charge.
The kiosk is the first of its kind in Northeast Florida and contains life vests for adults, children and infants. The life vests are available to boaters 24 hours a day.
“You can come here to the kiosk, get a life vest and just return it,” William Latimer with the US Coast Guard Auxiliary said.
“It’s all on the honor system. They get a life vest, they use it, come back and bring it out.”
Latimer says the US Coast Guard partnered with Boat US to create the life vest loaner program. The kiosk itself was built by the US Coast Guard Station Mayport. It was funded using private donations.
Latimer adds that law requires all boaters to have life vests.
“Whether you’re boating, kayaking, canoeing, jet skiing, everybody is required to have a life vest,” Latimer said.
Beyond the law, Latimer says life vests are critical for safety.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife, there were 67 boating deaths in Florida in 2016. Falls overboard were the most common accident type and drowning was the primary cause of death.
“I’ve heard of many people drowning because they fall off a boat in a boating accident or jet ski and they think ‘Oh I can swim!” Nassau County resident Jesse Alvare said.
“But just because you can swim good doesn’t mean after being rattled falling off of something you can come back from that.”
Latimer says a similar kiosk recently opened in Camden County, Georgia, and he hopes new ones continue to open throughout the coast.