Life Jacket Loaner Stands Make Splash On South Fork

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Less than two months after a boating accident nearly cost him his life, Eastport resident Scott Finne spoke out about the importance of boating safety on Monday at an event to promote the installation of new life jacket loaner racks on the East End.

Mr. Finne was rescued from the wreckage of the Pauline IV, the 45-foot commercial fishing boat he helped operate after rough water in the Shinnecock Inlet capsized it on May 12. The ship’s captain, 85-year-old Stian Stiansen of East Quogue, died during the accident, but Mr. Finne—who was not wearing a life jacket—was able to hold on to floating debris long enough to be rescued.

“I was fortunate to have that, but had I been wearing a life jacket, that would be one less concern that I had to deal with for my survivability,” Mr. Finne said.

Mr. Stiansen was not wearing a life jacket either, but Mr. Finne noted that it would not have made a difference, because the captain was stuck inside the boat when it went down.

“The whole time I was out there adrift, I was so mad because it was something that would have taken two seconds to put on and it could have saved my life,” Mr. Finne said.

He was one of several speakers at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new life jacket loaner stand installed at Haskell’s Bait and Tackle, located on Montauk Highway in East Quogue. It is one of 42 such stands that are now installed, or will soon be set up, across Long Island, including a dozen on the South Fork, according to Kerry Gillick-Goldberg, a spokeswoman for Sea Tow Services International. The company is using a $20,000 grant from Long Island-based beer distribution company Clare Rose and brew company Anheuser-Bush to fund the new stands.

The other local stands already set up are at the following locations: the East Hampton pump-out station on Gann Road and the East Hampton Town launching ramps on Boat Yard and Gann roads, all in East Hampton; Uihlein Marina on West Lake Drive, the Montauk Marine Basin on West Lake Drive, and the Montauk Yacht Club Resort and Marina on Star Island Road, all in Montauk; and the Remsenburg Marina on Dock Road in Remsenburg.

Mr. Finne said he found out about the life jacket loaner program through Les Trafford, the owner of Sea Tow Shinnecock/Moriches and the man who saved his life. Mr. Trafford has Sea Tow locations in Southampton Town, each of which will be outfitted with a life jacket loaner stand.

Mr. Finne said after his experience, the program is something he fully supports.

“It’s a wonderful thing where you can get a life jacket based on the honor system,” he said. “You just show up, get as many as you need, then take them back when you’re done with them at the end of the day, and that way there’s nobody that ever has to be on the water with not enough life jackets or insufficient life jackets.”

The stands, which are set up in marinas and boat shops, offer freely accessible personal flotation vests to boaters. Sea Tow proposed the initiative last August, Clare Rose marketing manager Trish Lemery said, as a way to urge boaters to be responsible when drinking alcohol on the water.

“After all the tragedies on the water last year, they came to us with the life jacket loaner program,” Ms. Lemery said. “We do a really good job with drinking and driving and designating a sober driver on the road, so we decided it was time to expand to our waterways, because that’s our backyard.”

Ms. Lemery said the jackets can be taken free of charge by anyone, no strings attached. The program will operate entirely on the honor system, she explained. “It’s our first year, so we’ll monitor it as we go,” she added.

Sea Tow founder and CEO Joe Frohnhoefer said it was a priority to have the stands ready and accessible in time for Fourth of July celebrations, because of the high volume of people who take to the waters to celebrate. Last holiday, three children died when the boat they watched fireworks from was swamped by a large wave in Oyster Bay; only some of the 27 passengers on the boat were wearing life jackets, officials said.

“If you’re gonna go out there and party, we’re not gonna stop you from drinking,” Mr. Frohnhoefer said. “If you’re gonna go out there and party, do it responsibly, make sure you have someone to run the boat that’s knowledgeable, that knows how to run the radio, knows how to use the equipment on the boat to get you home.”

Shortly after receiving the $20,000 grant from Clare Rose and Anheuser-Busch, Mr. Frohnhoefer said his company received an additional $150,000 grant from the U.S. Coast Guard to set up similar programs across the country. Similar programs have been set up in 15 states, mostly along the Atlantic Coast, with a few locations along the Pacific and Gulf coasts, as well as two locations in Tennessee.

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