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A & E

Tips for having safe boating experiences

Throughout the busy summer boating season, Illinois Conservation Police remind boat operators and passengers to stay sober and wear life jackets while on the water.

“The 2019 boating season has been especially challenging because of the weather and flooding in Illinois,” Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Director of Law Enforcement Jerry Costello said in a news release.

“When waterways are open, please be alert to potential dangers related to high water, including strong currents, floating debris, and submerged objects that could pose dangers to you and the passengers on your boat.”

Boat operators should check to make sure watercraft have the correct number of personal floatation devices (PFDs) on board, said Costello, adding that Illinois law requires that properly-fitting U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFDs – life jackets or life vests – be available for each person aboard a boat or other watercraft.

State law also requires that anyone under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket while aboard any watercraft under 26 feet in length at all times the boat is underway, unless they are below deck in an enclosed cabin or operating on private property.

Illinois law also requires persons of any age to wear a PFD while operating a personal watercraft or Jet Ski.

Still, Costello said, life jackets aren’t the only consideration when reviewing boating safety.

“Too many boating accidents and boating fatalities in Illinois involve boat operators who are impaired while driving their watercraft," Costello said in a news release.

"For your safety, the safety of family and friends on your boat, and the safety of other boaters, please stay sober behind the wheel. We want boaters on Illinois waterways to enjoy the holiday this week, we just ask that they do it responsibly.”

The law and some statistics

Statistics compiled by the IDNR Office of Law Enforcement show 68 boating-related accidents in Illinois in 2018, resulting in 34 injuries and 18 fatalities, according to a news release from IDNR.

Annual boating accident statistics are compiled based on the Federal Fiscal Year of Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

CPOs in 2018 issued 1,045 citations and 3,753 warnings in enforcement of Illinois boating safety laws. CPOs made 124 arrests for boaters operating under the influence (OUI) in 2018.

What’s more, IDNR statistics indicate that 16 of the 18 people who died in boating accidents last year may have survived if they had worn a life jacket or other personal flotation device (PFD).

In addition, four of the 18 boating-related fatalities involved alcohol or drug impairment.

“Our Illinois Conservation Police step up water patrols throughout the summer months to remind boaters to stay safe and enjoy their time outdoors,” Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Director Colleen Callahan said in a news release.

“We remind boaters that wearing a life jacket can save their lives, and that it is against the law to drive or operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

Illinois law requires that properly-fitting U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFDs – life jackets or life vests – be available for each person aboard a boat or other watercraft.

State law also requires that anyone under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket while aboard any watercraft under 26 feet in length at all times the boat is underway.

The exception is if they are below deck in an enclosed cabin or operating on private property.

Illinois law also requires persons of any age to wear a PFD while operating a personal watercraft or Jet Ski.

Boating safety courses and certificates

The IDNR offers free boating safety courses that provide a review of boating laws and regulations, as well as instructions on safe and attentive operation of watercraft and encourages boaters of all ages to take a safety course.

Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1998 must pass a course and have a valid Boating Safety Certificate to operate a motorboat (with over 10 horsepower).

The free safety courses, taught by volunteer instructors, are available throughout Illinois; schedules are available by checking the IDNR website’s boating information page.

For a fee, online boating safety courses also are available.

There were 245,621 registered boats in Illinois in 2018.

For more information on boating safety, visit dnr.illinois.gov.

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