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Loaner life jackets at Lakefront Park in Hudson, courtesy of DNR grant

PDFs of all sizes are available at the new life jacket loaner station at Lakefront Park in Hudson. Photo by Jon Echternacht. Hudson Star Observer.1 / 2
Kuhfus is a water patrol deputy for the St. Croix County Sheriff's Department and an enthusiastic supporter of the life jacket loaner station. Photo by Hudson Star Observer's Jon Echternacht.2 / 2

If you forgot enough life jackets or don't have a throw-type flotation device on board when you launch into the St. Croix River at Lakefront Park in Hudson, have no fear.

A new life jacket loaner station went up over the Memorial Day weekend. Boaters may borrow a PFD in a variety of sizes and return it without charge.

The loaner station was provided through a DNR grant and the labor of Double Good 4-H club from the Baldwin-Woodville area who assembled the project at home.

Deputy Tim Kufus, who is starting his second year on water patrol for the St. Croix County Sheriff's Department, is 100 percent behind the new program.

"I think it's great," Kufus said as he explained the loaner station. He said the DNR grant paid for everything.

"There are life jackets of all sizes, adults, kids, infants and Type IV (throwable) devices," he said as he sifted through a pile of red and blue PFDs in the bin by the two-dock landing on the south edge of the park near the marina.

"Everybody should have a life jacket for each person on the boat," Kufus said, "and boats 16 feet or longer must have a Type IV on board."

The law requires PFDs for each person and Kufus said he wrote out more than a few tickets for not enough life jackets for each person in a watercraft last year.

DNR Warden Paul Sickman said, "A citation for failure to provide the proper number of personal floatation devices is a minimum $162.70 and maximum $200.50."

Sickman said the fine is per boat and the operator of the vessel gets ticketed.

According to the Wisconsin DNR website, required equipment by law includes:

--At least one U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket on board for each person in the boat.

--One USCG approved Type IV on boats 16 feet or longer, except canoes and kayaks, immediately available.

--Federal law requires children under 13 to wear a USCG approved PFD while underway in federally controlled waters.

--Every person on board a personal watercraft must wear a USCG approved Type I, II, III or V PFD.

The loaners provide the perfect answer for an "unexpected boat passenger," Kufus said.

The only requirement for use of the life jackets is to return them to the bin when done and hang up wet ones to dry on the hooks provided at the station. Each is stenciled with DNR Loaner on the back.

Kufus said the idea for the loaner life jackets came from Alaska originally. The idea was introduced to Wisconsin by DNR officials at a conference in Milwaukee in September 2011 and a $15,000 federal grant followed for six stations around the state.

In the trial project report for 2012, the DNR said Alaska started its life jacket loaner project in 1996 with about half a dozen stations. The number has risen to more than 600.

The Hudson station is easily identified by a large sign declaring "Kids Don't Float, give them something that does."