DNR stresses boat safety
SPRINGFIELD, IL – A safe outing for boaters in Illinois starts with wearing life jackets, as well as staying sober and being alert to others on the water with the busy spring and summer boating season underway. Illinois Department of Natural Resource (IDNR) Conservation Police are reminding boat operators and passengers to “Wear It!” – the theme of the National Safe Boating Council’s 2010 safe boating campaign encouraging the use of life jackets.
“The message to ‘Wear It’ is simple and right on point: wearing life jackets saves lives – and our Illinois Conservation Police officers will be reminding boaters throughout the season about wearing those personal floatation devices to help them stay safe on the water,” said IDNR Director Marc Miller. “We want boaters to have a good time while they’re on the water this spring and summer. Staying safe by wearing a life jacket and by boat operators staying sober while on the water should be part of every boater’s routine.”
Statistics compiled by the IDNR Office of Law Enforcement show that there were 102 reportable boating accidents on Illinois waters in 2009, resulting in 71 injuries and 25 fatalities. Those totals compare to 120 reportable boating accidents with 78 injuries and 13 fatalities in 2008. During the most recent 10-year period, Illinois had an average of 109 boating accidents with 72 injuries and 16 fatalities annually.
“Once again last year, the biggest factor that would have contributed to saving lives would have been for people to wear their personal floatation devices (PFDs) – their life jackets or life vests – while boating in Illinois,” said IDNR Law Enforcement Chief Rafael Gutierrez. “Of the 25 people who died in Illinois boating accidents last year, 12 may have survived if they had worn their PFD.”
Illinois law requires that life jackets, also known as personal floatation devices (PFDs), 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. Under Illinois law, persons of any age must wear a PFD while operating a personal watercraft or jet ski.
“The law in Illinois requires that PFDs be aboard every boat, but not wearing those PFDs won’t help you in an accident or emergency,” Gutierrez added. “If you’re involved in an accident, you may not have time to put the life jacket on. Put on the PFD when you get on the boat and keep it on whenever you are on the water.”
As part of the Illinois Conservation Police boating safety enforcement effort, officers strictly enforce laws regarding operating under the influence (OUI) for boat operators. In 2009, Conservation Police officers (CPOs) made 179 arrests for operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Other law enforcement agencies in the state made another 36 arrests for OUI. In addition to the OUI arrests, officers issued 1,960 citations and 5,576 warnings to boaters for various infractions of the Illinois Boat Registration and Safety Act.
The IDNR offers free boating safety courses to provide 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 encourages boaters of all ages to take a safety course. Safety course schedules are available by phoning 1-800/832-2599 or by visiting the IDNR web site at http://dnr.state.il.us.
Safety education courses taught by volunteer instructors are key to the state’s boating safety effort. In 2009, reports indicated 85 percent of watercraft involved in accidents were operated by people who had no formal boat safety education, while more than 90 percent of boaters who died in boating accidents had not participated in a formal boat safety education course.
Among the primary causes of boating accidents are operator inattention, alcohol use, careless/reckless operation and operator inexperience.
National Safe Boating Week is observed each year during the week leading up to the Memorial Day holiday. This year’s National Safe Boating Week observance is May 22-28 with the theme “Wear It!” to remind boaters of the importance of wearing life jackets.
Click here to read the full text of the 2009 Illinois boating accident report.