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March 6, 2012

'Kids Don't Float' project targeted to start Memorial Day weekend

MADISON -- In an effort to help boaters of all ages stay safe on the water this summer, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is seeking partners to help run a loaner life jacket pilot of the Kids Don't Float program at several boat landings.

"This program is all about keeping everyone - especially kids - safe while out enjoying Wisconsin's many rivers and lakes," said Chuck Horn, the DNR acting boating law administrator and former conservation warden heading the effort. "There are cases when people launch the boat thinking they have a life jacket for each passenger, and they don't. This program will HELP ensure all in the boat will have one, as the law requires."

The DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement hopes to replicate the successful life jacket program started in Homer, Alaska, in 1996 to combat that state's high rate of child and youth drownings. Alaska started the program with several boat landing stations where life jackets were available to be borrowed at no cost and returned after use. Today, Alaska has more than 500 loaner stations statewide.

"This is definitely an honor program. If you need a jacket, take one before you launch and simply return it to the station once you're off the water," Horn said. "We are optimistic we will have partners because Wisconsin is fortunate to have so many organizations and citizens who care deeply about the resources and the people who enjoy them."

Donated jackets needed, partner duties

Horn says the DNR will provide the plans and materials for the loaner stations along with a starter supply of loaner jackets. "And the program also would gladly accept donated life jackets. If the pilot grows into a program, the jackets will be needed."

The partners could be groups, clubs, associations, agencies or individuals interested in boating safety. The partners would have several responsibilities, including:

What's the law on life jackets?

The U.S. Coast Guard and Wisconsin law require a boater carry one wearable life jacket, also known as a PFD, or personal flotation device, for every passenger on board - including the operator. Boats that are 16 feet and longer must have a throwable type PFD -- such as a ring buoy or Type IV cushion. The cushion can be a square with handles on the side.

Also, the U.S. Coast Guard requires children 13 and younger to wear their life jackets on federal waterways such as the Great Lakes or Mississippi River.

Why are the wardens doing this?

Horn says since 1994, 13 kids have drown in boating related incidents in Wisconsin and 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," he said. "This program has helps highlight safety and the role of life jackets play while boating."

To learn more about the program and becoming a partner, contact

Last Revised: Tuesday, March 06, 2012

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