SPRINGFIELD — Fifty years ago, Illinois began keeping boat accident statistics, and Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller is asking the public to help make the 2014 boating season one to remember, for being the safest since accident statistics first were recorded in 1964.
The IDNR is also launching a radio ad campaign throughout the state in both English and Spanish designed to remind everyone to “Wear It, Always Wear Your Life Jacket!” — the theme for National Safe Boating Week, which runs from May 17-23.
While a variety of factors contribute to the fluctuation in the number of boating accidents, including weather and water levels, public education and preparedness remains top reasons why accidents and fatalities have dropped significantly on Illinois waters since the mid-1990s.
“We have come a long way in 50 years in improving safety with boating education and tougher laws, but we can still do better. Take a boating safety class, always wear your life jacket, and never drink before or while operating a boat,” said IDNR Director Miller. “With a little preparation and common sense, together we can make this boating season the safest in 50 years.”
In 2001, Illinois saw the fewest boating fatalities in recorded history with eight. In 2013, 50 people were injured and 14 people lost their lives as a result of 65 reported boating accidents on Illinois waters.
Illinois has seen the number of fatalities drop from an average of 46 per year in the 1960s to 19 per year since 2000. Much of the drop in the number of fatalities can be attributed to tougher laws and the availability of safety education classes.
On Friday, Illinois Conservation Police (CPOs) were at locations throughout the state performing courtesy boat inspections to help prepare boat owners for the 2014 season. CPOs did not write tickets during the free safety checks on that day, but went through a safety checklist that included working life jackets, fire extinguishers, navigation lights and battery covers. Officers were also be available to answer any questions about boat registrations and titles or water usage stamps.
“Our job is to help people stay safe, and letting them know if their boat is in compliance and working properly without fear of a fine or ticket is a great way to start off the boating season,” said Illinois Conservation Police Chief Rafael Gutierrez.
State law 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 operator inattention, alcohol use, careless/reckless operation, and operator inexperience. 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 to operate a motor boat, and encourages boaters of all ages to take a safety course. Safety courses, which are taught by volunteer instructors, are available throughout Illinois and schedules are available by calling 800-832-2599 or by checking the links on the IDNR website’s boating information page.
Online boat safety courses are also available for a fee charged by the course operator.