File Photo | Photo via United States Coast Guard

Illinois conservation police are urging residents to wear life jackets and avoid operating boats while under the influence ahead of the summer season.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) released a statement during National Safe Boating Week, which runs from May 21 to May 27, reminding people to practice safe boating ahead of the summer boating season.

IDNR conservation police urge those on the water to wear life jackets and only operate boats while sober.

“The ‘Wear It!’ message is a simple and easy message to understand,” Illinois Conservation Police Lieutenant Curt Lewis said.

“Wearing a life jacket isn’t just a reminder for everyone on a motorboat; it’s also important for everyone who enjoys paddle sports, such as kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards.”

93 boating accidents were reported on Illinois waters last year, resulting in 28 injuries and 16 deaths, annual statistics from conservation police show.

Four of those deaths involved alcohol or drug impairment, and the other 12 who died were not wearing life jackets.

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81 boating accidents resulted in 21 deaths and 36 injuries in 2020 and 72 accidents resulted in 14 deaths and 42 injuries in 2019.

Conservation officials said most accidents happen between noon and 6 p.m. on the weekends between June and August when conditions are favorable for boating.

Most accidents involved operators ages 20 to 40 who have more than 100 hours of boating experience but little to no boating safety instruction, and they usually involve open motorboats acting in a reckless manner, reports indicated.

Conservation police officers will strictly enforce laws regarding operating a boat under the influence as part of a boating safety enforcement effort.

Lewis said operating a boat under the influence can be more dangerous than operating a motor vehicle under the influence because waterways have no lane markers and most boats do not have seatbelts.

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65 boaters were arrested last year for operating under the influence, a 36% decrease from 2020.

State law requires personal floatation devices (PFDs) to be available for each person on a boat, and everyone to wear a PFD while operating a personal watercraft or jet ski.

Effective this month, no one can operate a watercraft unless everyone under the age of 13 on the deck or in an open watercraft is wearing an approved and appropriately sized PFD.

This requirement does not apply to people who are inside a cabin or below the top deck on a watercraft, on an anchored watercraft that is a platform for swimming or diving or aboard a charter “passenger for hire” watercraft with a licensed captain.

Officials say wearing an appropriately sized United States Coast guard-approved PFD is the most proactive action boaters can take to ensure their safety.

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IDNR offers free boating safety courses that teach safe operation of watercraft and provide a review of boating laws and regulations.

Anyone born on or after January 1, 1998, is required to pass a course and have a valid boating safety certificate to operate a motorboat of over 10 horsepower.

Those ages 12 to 17 are also required by law to receive boating safety education to operate a motorboat.

“Wearing a life jacket can save your life, and staying sober while operating a boat is not only common sense, it’s the law,” Lewis said.