A child-safety awareness program that started in Alaska is now making waves in Ocean County and surrounding areas up and down the East Coast.
"Kids Don't Float," a national effort sponsored by the New Jersey State Police, brought local organizations and residents to the for a life jacket box-build event — a movement the authorities hope will help reduce the number of fatalities from drowning.
"I go out on patrol and I see people vacationing that don't know our law," said state trooper Brian Weiner, an organizer of the event. "My hope is to cut down the fatality numbers."
Weiner said in 2010, 75 percent of all fatal boat accidents were a result of drowning. He said of those accidents, only 12 percent were wearing life jackets.
With materials donated by the state police, Manchester residents built 10 boxes that will hold up to 10 life jackets of varying sizes and placed at participating marinas and docks. Police also donated 200 other life jackets that were give out to those in attendance at Saturday's box-build.
"We decided, since one of our biggest problems is seeing kids who aren't wearing life jackets, if we could get the towns to put up a shed, we would stack them with life jackets," said Al Frizziola, Coast Guard Flotilla 7-9 commander. "It's a loaner program, the shed is never locked, and you bring the life jackets back when you're finished."
New Jersey requires children under the age of 13 to wear life jackets when on the water.
Frizziola said many families will go out on their boats when vacationing or when having guests come to town. He said the problem is when the families either don't have enough life jackets for everyone, or don't enforce their use.
But "it's common sense," he said.
Frizziola said he's seen this program work in other areas. He said since the program is done on the honor system, residents will take life jackets from the boxes, use them during the day, and return them at night. He said he's even seen residents drop off their old personal life jackets as their children outgrow them, and leave them for other residents to then use.
Helping to build the boxes, with instructions from their parents and members of the state police, were children from local clubs, including the Girl Scouts, Junior Impact Club, Impact Club, Habitat for Humanity and the Interact Club.