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No excuses: Boaters can now borrow life jackets in Inuvik and Dawson City

The Town of Inuvik has launched a new "loaner station" to provide boaters with life jackets they can borrow for free. A similar initiative also began recently in Dawson City.

Residents can borrow PFDs from Midnight Sun Complex in Inuvik, and life jacket 'trees' in Dawson City

Senior Lifeguard Arn Guama, left, and Bob Everett, aquatics director for the Town of Inuvik, pose with life jackets at the town's new personal flotation device loaner station. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

With hot summer weather in the forecast, people will be out on the water more than ever in Inuvik — and the town is hoping every one will be wearing a personal floatation device (PFD).

The Town of Inuvik has launched a new PFD "loaner station" to offer life jackets boaters can borrow for free.

"We see a lot of people going out in boats that don't have their own PFDs and they are at risk of drowning," said Bob Everett, aquatics director for the Town of Inuvik.

"This at least will hold them up in the water and they can flip up on their backs and stay alive."

Everett said the town was trying to spread the word about the program since before the August long weekend, no residents had yet checked out a life jacket.

According to the Canadian Red Cross, Indigenous communities experience rates of water-related fatalities up to 10 times more than other Canadian communities.

Everett said the program aims to reduce that number by making sure residents have a way to access life jackets. 

Everett said they currently have just over 100 life jackets but have funding to buy more if they are needed. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

For now, residents can call and check out the devices for free at the Midnight Sun Complex.

"A return date will be appreciated but not necessary," said Everett. "We have a system where they can give their sizes, their numbers and their contact information and we can just lend them to them."

When residents return the floatation devices, the town will sanitize them and hold on to them for about four days before adding them back to the stockpile to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Everett said they currently have just over 100 life jackets but also have funding to buy more if they are needed.

Life jacket 'trees' in Dawson City

A similar initiative was launched last month in Dawson City, Yukon, by the local fire department. Four life jacket "trees" were set up around the community — two along Front Street, one in West Dawson, and another in Rock Creek.

Dawson fire Chief Mike Masserey says the idea took shape after a couple of rafters had a close call this past spring, when the Klondike River was running fast and high.

"No life jackets, and they hit a log jam, flipped the raft over, and they were stranded on a log jam in the middle of the river," he said.

Fortunately, Masserey says, there were some Canadian Rangers in the area doing rescue training, and they were able to get the cold and hapless rafters back to safety.

"Because our water travels so fast, the undercurrents — people may underestimate that. And every year it seems somebody drowns in the river here, so we want to see if we can help prevent that," he said.

About 80 life jackets were donated by the Klondike Spirit tourist boat, and the fire department also purchased some smaller sizes for kids. Masserey has been keeping an eye on the life jacket trees and says so far they seem well-used.

The Dawson City Fire Department has set up four life jacket 'trees' around the community, with PFDs for boaters to borrow. (Dawson City Fire Department)

In Inuvik, the town isn't the only local organization that is trying to promote wearing life jackets.

The Inuvik Marine Rescue Unit was able to secure life jackets for both youth and adults in a partnership with the program Operation Life Preserver.

Last weekend, they gave out the life jackets they had on-hand in about an hour.

Next year, the town hopes to set up the loaner station at the boat launch, and residents will be able to take the life jackets from there.

"The idea of the loaner station is we have it available to anybody who is going to [the] boat launch in Inuvik," said Everett.

"I'm just hoping to see everybody wearing PFDs."

With files from Elyn Jones

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