Life jackets loaned for free at 42 LI sites

Forty-two life jacket loaner stations will be set up across Long Island by one of the nation's major providers of on-water assistance to boaters. Videojournalist: Randee Daddona (July 1, 2013)

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A national on-water assistance provider is lending life jackets free at key boating sites on Long Island.

Sea Tow Monday announced the locations of 42 such sites, including marinas, yacht clubs and fire stations, that will host life-jacket loaner stands to promote boating safety.

"So many people could be saved by wearing life jackets," Sea Tow founder and CEO Joe Frohnhoefer said Monday in East Quogue, where he announced the program.

"People don't realize Mother Nature's not forgiving."

Until mid-November, eight to 12 life jackets will be available either on the stands or in bins at the site for boaters to take for the day and bring back if they are short on life jackets. The jackets will also be available at Sea Tow locations and Haskell's Bait and Tackle in East Quogue.

State laws require children younger than 12 to wear the jackets, unless they are fully enclosed in the cabin. Boats are required to have enough jackets for everyone on board.

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The loans are "based on the honor system, and that's what our community is all about," said Scott Finne of Eastport, who vowed to always wear a life jacket after the commercial fishing boat he was on in May capsized, and Les Trafford, a Sea Tow franchise owner, saved him.

The Sea Tow Foundation has had life jacket loaner programs across the country since 2009. The Long Island program was funded with a $20,000 donation from Clare Rose Inc., the Long Island distributor for Anheuser-Busch.

The Boat Owners Association of America Foundation for Safe Boating and Clean Water also has free life jacket loaner stands at five Long Island locations, according to its website, boatus.com/foundation.

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Geared toward providing children with life jackets, this program has existed in the area for about 15 years, and boaters can sign out life jackets for the day or weekend, said Alanna Keating, the foundation's outreach manager.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said when there are extra guests on boats and not enough life jackets, "It's so easy to say 'oh well, we'll make do.' "

But, she said, "there is a tragedy that can be avoided."

In 2012, 27 boating deaths occurred in the state, according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics, including a Fourth of July boating accident on Long Island that killed three children.

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