SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Friday’s conditions were textbook summer weather, which called for swimmers on Lake Michigan and a bunch of floatation devices — both the fun kind and the safety kind.
Among those wearing the latter was Sarah Brubaker’s 3-year-old daughter.
“We had a little swim floatie, but she wants to get on the kayak. So, I’m like… ‘I feel much safer with you doing this than having just one of those life ones that goes around your waist,'” said Brubaker, whose family is visiting from St. Louis.
Jason Wain’s 2-year-old son, Grady, was also wearing one, sporting the same blue and yellow colors.
“(These are) pretty nice, convenient,” Jason said. “They look like they’re in good shape. Lots of kids are wearing them.”
They got these identical looking devices through two loaner life jacket stations installed on South Haven’s North and South beaches this week. Simply put, swimmers and boaters can borrow one to stay safe.
Pam Ford, who coordinates the Safe Kids Greater South Haven, said the project she helped spearhead has been in the works for the last two years. Stations were also installed in Van Buren State Park, Covert Township Park, and Pilgrim Haven.
“We started getting some interest with partners, and it went from there,” said Ford.
Given South Haven’s recent drownings, she hopes these will help prevent further tragedies.
“We were heartbroken that they weren’t out sooner. Perhaps, it would’ve made a difference,” Ford said.
One loaner station has five size categories with four life jackets each for a total of 20. It’s already a hit with safety advocates, including the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.
“Since 2010, there have been 1,118 drownings in the Great Lakes. Only 13 of those were wearing life jackets, and they were in cold water. So, you literally have a 99 percent survival rate if you’re wearing a life jacket in the Great Lakes,” said co-founder Dave Benjamin. “Again, it’s a huge asset.”
Parents are also praising the loaner lifejacket stations.
“It makes it a little easier, a little less to think about, and feel safer,” Wain said. “(My son is) happy, so I’m happy.”
“Knowing that my very active 3-year-old wants to get out in the water, I feel really happy knowing that she can have this and go out there and have a good time,” Brubaker added.
Beachgoers are urged to follow all posted instructions, especially the fourth and final one — If you wear it, leave it.
“Bring it back so someone else can use it,” Ford said.
The life jackets will be checked routinely and replaced if needed. The stations are open depending on the seasonal weather conditions. Ford added that lifejackets are just one piece to the puzzle when it comes to safety.
“Learning how to swim, staying within arm’s reach, always in adult supervision,” Ford listed. “Certainly, pay attention to conditions as they change.”