EAST POINT, Fla. (WMBB) — Forgetting a life jacket, or not having enough on board, can lead to a hefty fine and ruin a day on the water.
But this will soon be a thing of the past for Franklin County residents thanks to a partnership between the sheriff’s office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“This is hopefully a preventive measure that we can put in place to help save lives,” Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith said.
Florida state law requires every person on board water vessels to have a properly fitting life jacket or flotation device.
But the Fish and Wildlife Commission said 80 percent of drowning victims aren’t wearing a life jacket.
“I do not want to go and be dragging the bay for people like I have before,” Smith said. “We have people that drowned here, and hopefully this can prevent that. So just prevent a needless tragedy.”
For that reason, Franklin County now offers free life jackets.
“The free lifejackets will be available in boxes like this at public boat ramps across Franklin County,” Smith said. “All officials ask is that you return them at the end of the day.”
The FWC donated nearly 300 life jackets ranging in size to fit all ages.
“Franklin County has a lot of water and a lot of boats and a lot of people boating a lot of recreational boaters,” Smith said. “And so we had the idea that we should have life jackets readily available for people who may become for a day and they forget one for their five-year-old.”
The kiosks where the life jackets are stored were built and installed by Franklin County inmates.
“At the end of the day, the safety of the citizens here in Franklin County and of the state of Florida are paramount for us, for both agencies.”
Officials said they hope the new system will encourage people to always wear a life jacket on the water.
Right now life jackets are only available at the boat ramp on Pattron rive in East Point and Saint George Island. The sheriff’s office says they plan to continue expanding.