SPRINGFIELD, IL – While Independence Day weekend is a time for many in the United States to celebrate their freedom and patriotism, it’s also a time that many gather with family and friends to enjoy the outdoors. As the July 4th weekend approaches, Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Acting Director Sam Flood today reminded boaters to be safe while on the water this weekend.
“With the nice weather and holiday weekend, we anticipate a high number of visitors to our facilities. That in mind, we want to encourage people to take appropriate precaution while on the water by wearing a life jacket, paying close attention to other boaters, and staying sober,” said Flood. “The IDNR also encourages those who’ll be out on the water to consider taking a boating safety course.”
Boat owners, boat operators and everyone planning to spend time on the water in Illinois are encouraged to sign up for and participate in a free boat safety education course offered through the IDNR. In fact, people between 12-18 years of age who operate a motorized watercraft by themselves must possess a boating safety certificate. The free courses provide an important and potentially life-saving review of boating laws and regulations and instruction on safe and attentive boating.
Safety course schedules are available by phoning (800) 832-2599 or by checking the IDNR web site at http://www.dnr.state.il.us. Safety education courses are a key to the state’s boating safety effort. Nationwide, nearly 90 percent of all reported fatalities on boats involved boat operators who had not received boating safety instruction.
Statistics compiled by the IDNR Office of Law Enforcement show that 16 people died and 100 other people were injured in boating-related accidents on Illinois waters in 2005. There were 115 boating accidents involving 152 watercraft last year. In 2004, there were 18 fatalities and 45 others who were injured in 78 boating accidents involving 103 vessels.
Accident reports indicate that of the 16 people who died in Illinois boating accidents in 2005, 12 may have survived had they been wearing a life jacket. In those fatal accidents, 15 of the 16 people who died were on boats in which the boat operators either had not taken or it was not known whether they had taken a formal boat safety education course.
“Boating safety courses are an important, potentially life-saving tool for anyone who plans to be out on the water this summer,” said Jeff Hopkins, coordinator of safety education programs for IDNR. “The boating safety courses offered by the IDNR are free, and can help boaters avoid the kinds of situations that can get them in trouble while on the water.”
“We’ve seen a number of fatal boating accidents on Illinois waterways this year. It’s our hope that the public can learn from those tragedies and take necessary caution while on the water,” said Capt. Greg Hunter of the IDNR Conservation Police, who serves as the state boating law administrator. “One of the first things boat operators and their passengers can do to improve their chances of surviving a boat accident is to wear a life jacket while on the water.”
Illinois law requires that life jackets 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. It’s also required that everyone, regardless of age, wear a life jacket while operating a personal watercraft or jet ski.
Among the primary causes of boating accidents are careless or reckless operation, operator inattention, equipment failure, hazardous water conditions and alcohol use.
“Each year, our Conservation Police Officers make boating enforcement a top priority, and that means enforcement of operating under the influence laws,” Hunter said. “Last year, CPOs made 185 arrests for operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs (OUI). Other agencies made 93 OUI arrests last year. The waters are safer when boat operators are sober.”
**NOTE** BOAT ED offers an Illinois approved online boat safety education course that can be accessed through the IDNR web site at http://dnr.state.il.us. There is a $15 fee charged for the online course.