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Boaters urged to operate with caution, awareness of others this Labor Day weekend - 9/2/2022



Boaters urged to operate with caution, awareness of others this Labor Day weekend

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Jayette Bolinski, communications director, Illinois Department of Natural Resources,

Lt. Rachel Ault, U.S. Coast Guard, Marine Safety Unit Chicago,


SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Coast Guard are urging people to operate their boats, jet skis and other watercraft safely as they celebrate the unofficial end of summer this Labor Day weekend.

"Crowded waterways are no place to throw caution to the wind," said Lt. Curt Lewis with the Illinois Conservation Police. "We want everyone to enjoy the long holiday weekend with family and friends. We also want them all to make it home safely with nothing but fun memories."

Authorities will be patrolling Illinois rivers, lakes and Lake Michigan throughout the Labor Day weekend looking for safety violations and reckless operators following several recent tragic situations in the "Playpen" waters of Lake Michigan.

  • On Aug. 13, two women were critically injured when they were pulled into the prop-wash of a 37-foot charter boat that backed into them while they were floating on a raft in the Chicago "Playpen" area in Lake Michigan. One of the women lost both of her feet in the accident. The case remains under investigation. In addition, several other people have drowned or were badly injured this summer while operating boats in the "Playpen" and Lake Michigan.
  • In June, a man operating a jet ski on the Fox River was injured when a boat ran into him and threw him off the ski. He was wearing a life jacket and suffered non-life-threatening injuries. The boat fled the scene.
  • In late May, a 40-foot boat at the Spring Brook Marina along the Illinois River in Seneca exploded after completing fueling. A total of 18 passengers and one marina employee were on board at the time; 15 people required medical treatment. A 45-year-old Yorkville man was badly burned in the explosion and later died.
  • On April 10, four people went kayaking in the backwater lake at Matanzas Beach near Havana in Mason County and attempted to cross the water during a period of high wind and wave activity. About halfway across, one of them fell out of his kayak when it overturned. He was later pronounced dead.

"These incidents are heartbreaking. It's why we work so hard to remind people about the importance of fully understanding their watercraft, following all safety rules, and realizing the potential dangers they could face on the water," Lewis said. "Things can change in the blink of an eye – from shifts in currents and weather patterns to mechanical difficulties and encountering reckless operators."

The U.S. Coast Guard is urging people to fully understand the rules and responsibilities for chartering boats. If passengers are paying to be aboard a boat, the vessel should be operating under one of the three options listed below:

  • As a certificated vessel under Coast Guard inspection – A vessel that chooses this option is subject to annual Coast Guard inspection and will have a Certificate of Inspection sticker displayed aboard the boat.
  • As an uninspected passenger vessel – These vessels may carry up to six passengers including at least one "passenger for hire" with a crew or captain provided. In this option the vessel is not chartered under a written agreement.
  • As a bareboat charter (or renting someone else's boat) – In this type of agreement, the boat is rented out. If the owner wishes to provide crew, no more than six passengers may be on the boat. If the owner wishes to provide the vessel without any crew, no more than 12 passengers are allowed. Most importantly, this type of rental must be accompanied by a written and valid rental charter agreement featuring valid definitions of passengers. 

"If an owner is willing to use their vessel for transportation or rental illegally, that should already be a signal that other safety and legal violations may be present. Don't put yourself at risk," said Cdr. Timothy Tilghman, Commanding Officer of Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago. "We are urging passengers this weekend to know what type of charter they are riding, or renting, and report to the Coast Guard if they see any illegal activity on the waterway."

In addition, IDNR is reminding people to exercise caution when using kayaks and canoes on Illinois waterways.

  • Paddle in a group if possible, and be extra cautious if paddling in water colder than 75 degrees.
  • In areas with motorboat traffic, paddle closer to the shore and approach waves head-on or at a slight angle to avoid capsizing.
  • If you do capsize or fall out, keep your feet pointed downstream and avoid touching the bottom to avoid getting snagged or stuck. Stay upstream of the boat to avoid getting pinned between it and an obstruction.
  • Always scan ahead for hazards such as low-hanging tree limbs, low bridges, rocks or rapids.
  • Don't feel pressured to tackle a section of water that appears too challenging. It's OK to portage around it.

Finally, officials stress that drinking and boating do not mix, and that life jackets save lives. Tips for all boaters include:

  • Never boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Take a boating safety course. Find more information at
  • Confirm all essential equipment is working and in good condition.
  • Always tell a friend or loved one about your trip itinerary, including operator and passenger information, boat type and registration, and communication equipment on board.
  • Wear a life jacket or personal flotation device.
  • Keep an eye on the weather.
  • Use an engine cut-off switch for stopping a boat engine should the operator unexpectedly fall overboard.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times and always travel at safe, legal speeds.




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