‘Buoyant’ gathering: Marco boating groups join worldwide effort to promote life jacket use

Lance Shearer

Your life jacket cannot save your life – if you’re not wearing it.

A group of Marco Island boating enthusiasts came together Saturday morning at the Marco Island Yacht Club to “float” the idea that safe boating means wearing your life jacket while aboard. Nationally, this was the ninth annual “Ready, Set, Wear It! Life Jacket Event,” although just the third which has included participation from the island’s organized mariners.

First responders, including firefighters, police and FWC officers, show their support for wearing life jackets.The Marco Island Commanders Group, an amalgam of marine and related organizations,  hosted the Ready, Set, Wear It! Life Jacket Event on May 19 at the Marco Island Yacht Club.

Locally, the effort was sponsored by the Marco Island Commanders Group, made up of the heads of seven local marine and safety-related groups. Gene Burson, commander of the Marco Island Sail & Power Squadrons, spearheaded the event. Other groups participating included the local Coast Guard Auxiliary, Marco Island Yacht Club, Marco Bay Yacht Club, Sailing Association of Marco Island, Marco Sportfishing Club, and the Civil Air Patrol.

Also on hand to show their support for safe boating, the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department, Marco Island Police Department, and FWC brought boats as well as officers, all wearing their life jackets, of course. The Civil Air Patrol contributed an aircraft which did a flyover above the event.

In total, 40 participants wore their life jackets, or PFDs, short for “personal floatation devices,” to be part of the group photo, which will be sent on to the National Safe Boating Council, which is tabulating the numbers nationwide, and hoping as always to break the record. Marco Island’s tally of 40 represented less than half of the number who came out for the island’s first participation in 2015, when 95 safe boaters congregated.

While the tally on Saturday was 40, three of them were dogs, a Newfoundland and two Labrador retrievers, but dogs need to stay safe too, and even water dogs can’t swim forever. Lily, the Newfoundland, acts as a life preserver herself, instinctively swimming out to swimmers in need.

“If she sees someone in trouble, she will water rescue,” said owner Bob Glodt. “They have webbed feet – they were bred for pulling (fishing) nets.”

For those with small children, perhaps the grandkids, coming to visit, who therefore need pint-sized PFDs for short periods of time, the MIPD has a loaner program which, like a library for books, will allow you to get the kids suited up, and presumably complaining about it, when they get out on a boating excursion. Life jackets are also available on racks at public beach access points on the island, said Chief Al Schettino.

“We’ve lost a few, but it’s worth it to keep the children safe,” he said.

The Wear It! event kicked off National Safe Boating Week nationwide, which runs from May 19 – 25. This, of course, is timed to coincide with the beginning of the summer boating season up north, with Memorial Day weekend the traditional kickoff. Like so many other seasonal observances, Florida is on a different timetable, with the number of boating trips way down versus the months of the winter season.

But look at it this way – if you are out boating, and do fall overboard, that means fewer boaters out there to rescue you, so all the more important you have your life jacket on to keep you afloat.

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