Photos courtesy of Sea Tow Tampa BayBeginning in a few days, if you need a free loaner life jacket you’ll be able to find one thanks to Sea Tow Tampa Bay’s sponsorship of a special display stand that will be located at the boat launch area of Maximo Park, at the end of Pinellas Point Drive South, west of I-275 in St. Petersburg.
“It’s an honor for us to be able to do this,” said Cile Moreno, owner of Sea Tow Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg. “Our goal is to have four to five” in the area.
They work with local governments regarding permitting each display and the effort is funded by a national-level grant from Sea Tow. Maximo Park is the first location in Pinellas or Hillsborough counties to receive a display. It has seven free boat ramps with free parking.
The Sea Tow Foundation has sponsored the national-level grant and program since 2008, a non-profit founded by a boat captain who was concerned about the number of preventable boating-related accidents, injuries and deaths. According to the most recent Coast Guard statistics, when the cause of a boating death is known three out of every four people drowned. Of those, 85 percent were not wearing a life jacket.
“The stand will have 25 to 30 jackets in sizes to fit children and adults,” said Moreno. “It’s for when people go boating and forget they don’t have enough life vests on hand. It saves them from having to buy additional vests or not having enough.”
Boaters may borrow one or more vests for the day and are asked to return them to the stand after use.
“We’ll monitor the stand and replace the vests as needed,” said Moreno.
Maximo Park is a test site for Tampa Bay to see how local boaters will react to the service. The next display will be at the boat launch of Demens Landing Park in downtown St. Petersburg.
Moreno is also working with the Pinellas County to place a stand at the boat launch area of Ft. DeSoto and at the Williams Park Boat Ramp in Hillsborough County in Gibsonton.
“The goal is to get the displays at larger boat ramps in Tampa Bay,” said Moreno.
The foundation has placed over 35,000 free loaner life vests on more than 300 stands throughout the country thanks to volunteers. In addition to tax-deductible donations, they also collect new and gently used life jackets from boaters who no longer need them or have outgrown them. The foundation can also provide details for hosting a life jacket drive in local communities. For more information and a map of established life jacket loaner stations, visit seatow.com/boating-safety.