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Life-jacket loaner stations may be added to Effingham County boat ramps
Life Jacket Loaner station
Safe Kids Savannah hopes to add life-jacket loaner stations, like this one at Turners Creek in Chatham County, to Effingham County boat ramps soon. (Submitted photo.)

By Barbara Augsdorfer, Editor for the Effingham Herald

Noting that there has been a 300% increase in drownings in the Coastal Georgia area in the past four years, Jenna Morris, coordinator for Safe Kids Savannah, addressed the Effingham County Board of Commissioners at its June 6 meeting, asking for their support to add life-jacket loaner stations to area boat ramps.

According to Morris, the life-jacket loaner stations are constructed and maintained by volunteers, and the new and gently used jackets are donated. Volunteers regularly inspect the life jackets and remove any that have broken straps or are otherwise damaged.

“We were recently awarded several grants including a three-year grant from the U.S. Coast Guard to bring this program back to life and expand it throughout our region,” Morris said. “We are working in partnership with our Effingham County Fire Department, and Parks and Recreation to put life-jacket loaner stations at public access boating ramps and landings so that people have access to life jackets that can help save their lives.”

Morris added the life-jacket stations are also supported by the Home Depot Foundation, Bass Pro Shops, and other community organizations.

She said that just having the loaner stations there increases awareness for people to wear a life jacket, and if someone has forgotten a life jacket, they can simply borrow one from the station and return it when they’re done with it. The program works on the honor system.

“Sometimes they disappear,” Morris admitted, “(but) a lot of times they stay up there.”

Safe Kids Savannah has life-jacket loaner stations at seven boat ramps in Chatham County, with an eighth one coming soon; four stations in Bryan County; and recently received approval for two stations in Liberty County. In Effingham County the organization is hoping to add the loaner stations to Tuckasee King, Steel Bridge, Tommy Long Landing, and Abercorn Landing boat ramps.

“We have the materials. We have life jackets. We really just (need) getting all the approval to put these up,” Morris said.

Morris’ presentation was not an agenda item that required a vote at the meeting, and the commissioners will consider her proposal along with input from County Attorney Lee Newberry to make sure the county would not incur any liability in case of someone drowning or another injury that could be sustained by wearing a life jacket.

“Do we take on the liability if we do something like this and say a life jacket was damaged or a strap was not secure? Would that create any liability for us if a child was injured due to a poor life jacket?” Commission Chairman Wesley Corbitt asked.

“I can see in the realm of possibility Yeah, if something bad like that happens,” Newberry said. “If we were to do this, we kind of set the parameters and identification if there's any insurance policies in place and so forth.”

Morris explained that signage on the station informs the users of their responsibility.

“What we currently have on there is a posted liability statement saying that the user assumes risk for use or non-use of life jackets as well as assumes the risks to inspect the life jacket and make sure it's appropriate for the size of the user and that it's in good condition,” Morris said. “This is not intended to completely replace user responsibility.”

To volunteer or donate, Safe Kids Savannah can be reached by calling 912-665-8385 or on their website at: