BUCKSPORT, Maine — More than 200 elementary school students in Bucksport took a break from their schoolwork on Wednesday for some hands-on lessons on another topic too often neglected in water-loving Maine, sometimes with tragic consequences.
Students at Jewett Elementary tried on lifejackets and handled life-saving rings, sat behind the controls of a U.S. Coast Guard boat and learned about boating safety as part of a special program organized with crew members of the Coast Guard’s Southwest Harbor station.
“This is the first time we’ve done it at a school,” said Chief Tim Chase of the Southwest Harbor station. “It’s a great event for us and a great event for the kids.”
Several classes of kindergartners were all smiles Wednesday afternoon as they climbed aboard and explored a 26-foot boat on a trailer, donned life vests, learned about emergency life rafts and then heard a basic talk about lighthouses and navigational aids.
Recent events have underscored the serious subject matter. Within the past 10 days, at least four people have drowned in Maine lakes, rivers or coastal waters. Two of those people — a lobsterman off Boothbay Harbor and a recreational fisherman in Aroostook County — were not wearing life vests when they either fell overboard or their boats submerged. A third victim was a well-equipped but inexperienced kayaker who apparently drowned near Scarborough.
“Every time we are on a boat, we need to have on a lifejacket, right?” asked one Coast Guard member while holding up one of the oversized vests that the children would try on for giggles.
Adele Berzinis, a parent whose family business works with the Coast Guard, asked about bringing a boating safety demonstration to the school in hopes that the lesson would sink in for children when they go out on a boat next time with family.
“The goal is to have them say, ‘Hey, I’m supposed to wear my lifejacket and so should you, Mom and Dad,’” Berzinis said.
Approximately 225 children participated in the event. Chase said he hopes the safety demonstration will become a regular event at the Bucksport school and potentially spread to other schools in the area.
For more photos from Wednesday’s boating safety event or to read more Hancock County news, go to www.facebook.com/bdnmainehancock.