Kids don't float

A program approved by the the Oak Harbor City Council will remove any possible excuses parents might concoct to explain why their children are not wearing lifejackets while playing in or around the water.

Local boating enthusiast and longtime Oak Harbor resident J.J. Jones appropriated the idea for a lifejacket loaner program from Canadian marinas, where kiosks offering the safety gear are ubiquitous. While Jones and his wife Kathy were boating north of the border, they noticed the structures and the lifejackets.

“We thought, ‘Why not in Oak Harbor?’” said Jones, who is spearheading the project locally.

The avid boater shudders when describing the sheer number of children he has observed running loose without lifejackets while fishing or playing at the Oak Harbor Marina.

“This is an important project to ensure that our children have adequate and approved lifejackets while they are at the city marina,” he said.

When Jones presented the idea to the Oak Harbor Yacht Club, the response was overwhelmingly positive. He experienced the same reception from the Deception Pass Sail and Power Squadron.

“Both the Oak Harbor Yacht Club and the Power Squadron are fully supportive of this project and are delighted the City Council approved the request to build the kiosk,” he said.

The small kiosk will be erected on the marina pier to display the lifejackets.

“This will be the Yacht Club and the Power Squadron’s gift to the city,” Jones said. “We’re going to build it and maintain it.”

Volunteers are already chomping at the bit to get moving on the structure, which they plan to have completed by the opening day of boating season, generally the first weekend of May.

“This will benefit the community in many ways,” Jones said. “Parents who just want to enjoy a day of fishing from the marina piers can borrow a lifejacket and breathe a little easier while they are on the piers. Additionally, boaters who do not normally carry child-sized lifejackets can check-out a child-sized PFD for daily use.”

A tragedy was averted last year at the marina when two young men plucked a baby out of the icy waters. The incident clearly demonstrates a need for the lifejacket program.

“We almost had an unthinkable tragedy,” Jones said. “This year, our goal is to see children enjoying the marina in a safe manner.”

Jones, no stranger to the selfless pledging of countless volunteer hours, can take plenty of consolation in knowing that he will not be alone in his efforts.

“I am certain this project will consume a lot of my time, but there are so many Yacht Club and Power Squadron members who are passionate about this project,” he said. “We will have plenty of volunteers to get this done.”

While the retired Naval officer commits himself to the loaner lifejacket program, his wife, the former Oak Harbor School Board member, is chairing the Island County Republican Party and is simultaneously running her successful accounting firm. The phrase “spreading oneself too thin” does not exist for the couple.

“The Jones family is going to be very busy for the next couple of months,” he said.

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