Monday, July 15, 2024

Forgot a life jacket? You can borrow one for free here in James City County

(WYDaily/Courtesy of Adobe)

As the summer season gets fully underway, life can get a little busy. For some, that could mean forgetting certain things here and there: a pair of sunglasses, the keys on the kitchen table, snacks for the road and more.

For James City County boaters, the county is there to help in case a crucial piece of safety gear is lost: A life jacket.

For nearly four years, the James City County Marina has had 12 life jackets available to loan to boaters for free through a partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 67 Williamsburg.

This year, the program will expand to cover a new life jacket station at Chickahominy Riverfront Park, bringing 50 total loaner life jackets to the park, said auxiliary member Wes Batten.

Those life jackets will be delivered soon and be available for use this summer in the park’s pool and on the river, Batten said. They were obtained through a grant from the Sea Tow Foundation.

“We’ve had good luck,” Batten said. “We’re a little over 100 times that the jackets have been requested [at the marina].”

The Coast Guard auxiliary has received life jacket grants from two groups, the Sea Tow Foundation and BoatUS over the last few years. The grants provide life jackets, safety information, promotional materials, a rack to hold the life jackets and a sign-out method.

County policy

James City County Parks and Recreation Parks Administrator Alister Perkinson said the county requires boaters to take life jackets when they are renting county property, including kayaks, canoes and paddle boards.

There are certain regulations in place, such as boaters 15 years old or younger need to be accompanied by an adult.

Only boaters 12 years old or younger are required to wear a life jacket while boating, but James City County recommends everyone wear one.

Boaters older than 12 only need to have the life jacket in the boat with them.

By having life jackets free for loan, it means all boaters can have a life jacket to use, even if they aren’t renting from the county, Perkinson said.

The effort

Batten — a retired educator who has served in multiple capacities including director of the MathScience Innovation Center in Richmond and director of technology for the state Department of Education — is gradually equipping various riverfront locations in Greater Williamsburg with life jackets.

He annually inspects the life jackets as well, and requests replacements from BoatUS or the Sea Tow Foundation as necessary. He’s able to visit each life jacket station four or five times a year.

In recent years, Batten also worked to place life jackets at the Two Rivers Country Club in Governor’s Land.

He also hopes to eventually place free life jackets along the York River, possibly at York River State Park, he said.

The Coast Guard auxiliary has nearly 40 members in the Williamsburg area and assists with other boating safety-related tasks.

The auxiliary inspects boats and ensures boat drivers are properly certified under Virginia state law, Batten said.

Batten has also done some environmental projects.

For the last three-and-a-half years, Batten has set up monofilament fishing line collection bins around the Tidewater area and York and James rivers. The project was funded by a grant and partnership with Virginia Sea Grant under the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

In those few years, Batten has collected about 2,000 pounds of fishing line.

“We do so many good things for our community,” Batten said.

For more information on life jacket loaner locations, visit the BoatUS website.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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