Statewide Life Jacket Loaner Stations Help Reduce Drownings, Boating Fatalities

No one wants to lose a child to drowning. No one wants to lose anyone they love to drowning. But we do, every single year. In 2020, statistics taken by the Oregon State Marine Board showed that 26 people lost their lives in Oregon while boating — the most since 1987. The youngest of them, a 6-year-old boy.  

The Marine Board’s data indicates that more than half of these deaths could have been prevented. Only seven of the victims were wearing life jackets; two of those were wearing improperly fastened jackets or jackets that didn’t fit. And 16 victims were said to have likely survived had they been wearing a life jacket.  

After Oregonian Meagan O’Meara-Clark drowned in an eddy over Independence Day weekend in 2013, her family started a nonprofit to try to prevent what they saw as a preventable death from happening to anyone else. So they started a life jacket loaner program, through which they collected cash donations and life jackets to hand out to people on the Clackamas River, where Meagan died.  

Though the family’s nonprofit, Meg’s Moments, doesn’t exist anymore, the Nautical Safety Foundation supplies life jackets through loaner stations across Oregon. Corvallis has two kiosks: one at the waterfront near Holiday Inn Express, a popular access point for floaters on the Willamette, and another at the Willamette Boat Landing near the Crystal Lake Sports Fields.  

These loaner stations rely on an honor system; borrow a life jacket, but don’t forget to return it when you’re done. If you’d like to donate a life jacket, you can contact the Nautical Safety Foundation to arrange for a pickup.  

The Osborn Aquatic Center also provides its own loaner jacket program, which is supported by the Benton Community Foundation. For additional guidelines on making sure that a life jacket is the right fit for an adult and/or child, check out this video. 

By Peggy Perdue 

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