Illinois Conservation Police officers – in observance of National Safe Boating Week – are reminding boat operators and passengers to wear life jackets and stay sober while on the water this boating season.
“As we head into our busy summer boating season in Illinois, we are reminding everyone who enjoys time on the water to make safety their first consideration,” said Illinois Conservation Police Chief Rafael Gutierrez. “Our message is pretty simple and straightforward: Fastening a life jacket can save your life, and staying sober while operating a boat is not only common sense, it’s the law.”
Statistics compiled by the IDNR Office of Law Enforcement show that there were 77 boating-related accidents on Illinois waters in 2014 resulting in 54 injuries and 20 fatalities. During the last five years, Illinois had an annual average of 95 boating accidents resulting in 67 injuries and 19 fatalities. (Annual boating accident statistics are compiled based on the Federal Fiscal Year of October 1 through September 30).
Illinois Conservation Police officers (CPOs) in 2014 made 159 arrests for boaters operating under the influence (OUI), a 38 percent increase in OUI arrests from 2013.
IDNR statistics indicate six of the 20 boating-related fatalities in Illinois last year involved alcohol or drug impairment, while 14 of those who died in boating accidents may have survived if they had worn a life jacket or other personal flotation device (PFD).
“We are serious about making sure boat operators stay sober – for their sake, for the sake of their passengers, and for the safety of the rest of the boating public,” Gutierrez said. “Too many boating incidents are attributable to operating under the influence, and too many lives are lost while boating due to alcohol or drug impairment or boaters not wearing a PFD.”
Illinois law requires that 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.
Among the primary causes of boating accidents are alcohol use and careless/reckless operation.
The IDNR offers free boating safety courses providing a review of boating laws and regulations and instruction on safe and attentive operation of watercraft. State law requires boating safety education for persons ages 12 to 17, and IDNR encourages boaters of all ages to take a safety course. The free safety courses taught by volunteer instructors are available throughout Illinois and schedules are available by checking the IDNR website’s boating information page at
http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/safety/Pages/BoatingSafety.aspx. For a fee, online boating safety courses are also available
National Safe Boating Week is observed each year during the week leading up to the Memorial Day holiday. For more information on the national safe boating campaign, go to the website at www.safeboatingcampaign.com.