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Most Common Boating Violations in Illinois

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) reports that, during the 2014 federal fiscal year, in response to violations of our state’s boating regulations, officers issued:

  • 1,504 citations
  • 5,127 written warnings.

The most commonly cited boating violations were:

The most commonly cited boating violations were:The most commonly cited boating violations were:

At the start of the summer, the Chicago Tribune followed Lake County Sheriff Marine Unit Sergeant James McKinney and a deputy as they patrolled the Chain O’ Lakes in Fox Lake. Please view the roughly three-minute video below to get a better idea of the officers’ approach to enforcing the state’s boating regulations.

Patrolling the Chain O’Lakes

In our view, the most telling comment comes at the 1:35 mark. McKinney tells the Tribune, “A lot of what the officers do out here is about balance. It’s about not only the enforcement side of it, but it’s also about ensuring the safety of everyone.”

We agree with McKinney. Illinois boating regulations are not about imposing fines and spoiling a day at the lake. Instead, they are aimed at protecting boaters, swimmers, anglers and everyone else who wants to enjoy our region’s outstanding natural resources.

With that in mind, we urge you to pay close attention to these 10 common boating violations of the Illinois Boat Registration and Safety Act. Do what it takes to avoid committing these violations and facing the consequences, which go beyond penalties and can include boating accidents, injuries and deaths.

1. Failure to Have Required Personal Flotation Device (PFD, or Life Preserver)

You must have at least one U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)-approved personal flotation device (PFD) on board your boat for each person who is on board. The PFD must be one of the following:

  • Type I or II – The PFD can turn an unconscious person from face-down to a vertical or slightly backward position in the water.
  • Type III – The PFD can keep a conscious person vertical or slightly backward in the water.

If the boat is 16 feet or more in length, you must also have at least one Type IV PFD, which is a PFD that can be thrown to a person in the water. If you are operating a personal watercraft (PWC) such as a jet ski, you must wear a PFD. If you are pulling someone along in water skis or a tube, you must have at least one PFD on board for that person (or the person must be wearing it).

Failure to Have Required Personal Flotation Device (PFD, or Life Preserver)Failure to Have Required Personal Flotation Device (PFD, or Life Preserver)

The PFD must be “readily accessible” and in “serviceable” condition. It must also be the appropriate size for the person who is supposed to wear it. The USCG approval label must be legible.

The failure to have a required PFD on board the boat can result in being cited for a petty offense. It can lead to much worse, as well. The IDNR reports that, out of the 20 people who died in Illinois boating accidents in 2014, 14 could have lived if they had been wearing a PFD.

2. Failure to Wear a Required PFD (for ages 13-under)

Failure to Wear a Required PFD (for ages 13-under)Failure to Wear a Required PFD (for ages 13-under)If you are operating a boat that is less than 26 feet in length, then anyone age 13 and younger who is on board the boat must wear an appropriate PFD at all times. The only two exceptions to this rule are:

  • The child is below deck in a totally enclosed cabin, or
  • The boat is being operated on private property.

We urge you to take this requirement seriously. The IDNR reports that, on average since 1964, 20 people have died each year in Illinois due to drowning, including children.

3. Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

You cannot operate a boat in Illinois with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher or while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or any combination “which renders [you] incapable of safely operating any watercraft.”

The criminal consequences, as you may imagine, are severe. A first-time offense is a Class A misdemeanor. The offense moves up to a Class 4 felony, carrying a one-year minimum, 12-year maximum prison sentence, if:

  • You have a prior boating under the influence (BUI) conviction;
  • You cause an accident that results in great bodily harm, permanent disability or disfigurement of another; or
  • The violation occurs while your boating license was revoked or suspended due to a prior BUI conviction.

The offense is a Class 2 felony if you cause an accident that kills another person. You could go to jail for a minimum of three years and a maximum of 14 years.

Boating after consuming any amount of alcohol or using any drug (illegal or prescription drugs) can be highly dangerous. As the IDNR reports, alcohol was involved in roughly one in five boating accidents in Illinois in 2014.

If you have any doubts, read about this Daily Herald account of a tragic event that occurred on the Chain O’ Lakes in July 2012. It resulted in the death of a 10-year-old boy and a 10-year prison sentence for the man convicted of boating under the influence of alcohol and cocaine.

4. Careless or Reckless Operation

Illinois law prohibits anyone from operating a boat in a “careless or heedless manner” that endangers others or from driving the boat at an unreasonably fast speed.  Examples include failing to:

  • Bear to the right when you approach another boat head-on
  • Grant the right of way to an overtaken boat
  • Yield the right of way to a sailboat or rowboat.

A “careless operation” offense is a Class B misdemeanor.

Careless or Reckless OperationCareless or Reckless Operation

The law also bars anyone from “reckless operation” of a boat. This means operating the boat in “such a manner as to willfully or wantonly endanger the life, limb or property of any person.” It can include:

  • Weaving through congested traffic
  • Jumping the wake of another vessel
  • Riding unreasonably or needlessly close to another vessel
  • Waiting until the last second to swerve and avoid a crash
  • Driving fast when visibility is obstructed
  • Creating a hazardous wake or wash due to your boat’s speed.

A violation can result in a Class A misdemeanor conviction or, if aggravated, it can result in a Class 4 felony conviction.

5. Entering a No-Boat Zone or Driving Above No-Wake Speed

If an area has been clearly marked by buoys or some other device as a zone limited to only swimmers or anglers, you must stay out. Additionally, you cannot operate a boat within 150 feet of a public launching ramp at a speed above “no wake” speed, or 5 mph or less. A violation is a petty offense and puts you at risk of striking someone else, which can have tragic consequences.

6. Overloading

When a boat is too crowded with people, it can lead to passengers falling overboard or to a capsizing. Weather and water conditions can factor into these types of accidents. One-fourth of the state’s 2014 boating fatalities occurred in capsizing accidents, the IDNR reports.

For these reasons, Illinois law prohibits anyone from operating a motor boat that is “loaded with passengers or cargo beyond its safe carrying capacity.” A violation of this law is a petty offense.

7. Improper Towing

Improper TowingImproper TowingIf you want to take someone waterskiing or tubing, you need to follow strict requirements. These requirements include:

  • Using a boat that can accommodate at least three people
  • Having at least two “competent” people on board the boat
  • Never towing another at night (30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes hour before sunrise)
  • Never riding through areas where the person being towed could strike any person or object.

Also, under a new law, you must display a bright orange flag that is at least 12 inches by 12 inches. It must be placed “at the highest point surrounding the boat’s helm” so it can be seen from all directions.

8. Riding Gunwales

You face punishment if you allow anyone on board your boat to ride or sit on the gunwales while the boat is in operation. Also, you cannot allow passengers to ride or sit on the tops of seat backs or on the decking over the bow or stern of the boat.

Many safety risks arise from violating this law. A person can easily fall overboard and suffer a head injury by hitting the boat, which can in turn lead to drowning or near-drowning.

9. Unlawful Operation

Under current Illinois law, no child under age 10 can operate a motor boat in Illinois. A child between age 10 and less than age 12 can operate a motor boat only if accompanied by a parent, guardian or person age 18 or older who has been designated by the parent or guardian. If a child is at least age 12 and younger than 18, the child must be accompanied by a parent, guardian or designee or have a valid Boating Safety Certificate.

A change in the law takes effect on January 1, 2016. If you were born on or after January 1, 1998, you must have a valid Boating Safety Certificate issued by the IDNR or by “an entity or organization recognized and approved” by the IDNR to operate a boat with over 10 horse power.

A child between age 10 and less than age 12 must be “under the direct on-board supervision” of a parent, guardian or designee with a valid Boating Safety Certificate. A child who is at least age 12 and less than 18 can operate a boat if the parent/guardian/designee requirement is met or the child has a valid Boating Safety Certificate.

If you allow your child to operate a boat in violation of this law, you can face a petty offense charge. Of course, you may also face liability if a child who lacks the strength, skills, training, judgment and experience to operate a motor boat causes an accident.

10. Failing to Properly Register and Title a Boat

Failing to Properly Register and Title a BoatFailing to Properly Register and Title a BoatIf you operate a boat in Illinois waters, the boat must be titled and registered (and you must also properly display your registration number). You may also need to have a permit to use the boat in certain waterways.

As Sergeant McKinney explains in the Chicago Tribune video, these funds can go towards enforcement of boating violations as well as other important safety measures such as dredging. Ultimately, this is why it’s important to meet these requirements.

If you believe that you or a loved one has been harmed in a boating accident by one who violated Illinois boating laws, you should contact Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., without delay. You will need to protect your legal rights, including the right to seek full and fair compensation for your damages. Simply call or reach us online today.

Patrick A. Salvi

Patrick A. Salvi concentrates his legal practice in several limited areas primarily involving a trial practice in cases concerning serious personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and mass torts. Mr. Salvi has achieved record-breaking jury verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients, including serving as lead counsel in obtaining an Illinois record-high $148 million jury verdict and a Lake County record $33 million jury verdict.

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