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Police urge boaters to keep it safe over Memorial Day weekend

Published: May. 27, 2022 at 6:57 PM CDT
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(WEEK) - Local police consider Memorial Day weekend the unofficial start of boating season - and they say boat safety starts before you even hit the throttle.

“When you put it in the water, don’t just go out right away. Stay at the dock for a few minutes, start the motor, let the engine warm up, and make sure everything’s functioning properly before you go out,” Fondulac Park District Police chief Michael Johnson said.

In 2021, there were 16 boat-related deaths in Illinois. Sergeant Phil Wire with the Illinois Conservation Police says 12 of those killed weren’t wearing life jackets.

“You should wear a life jacket. You are not required to by law, but you are required to have a properly-fitting personal floatation device in the vessel, readily accessible for you,” Wire said.

Another risk factor is when people are inexperienced in driving a boat - experts say while boats aren’t too difficult to operate, the water is a lot different from the road.

“On a car, you have brakes - on a boat, you don’t have brakes,” Wire said. “Jet boats and personal watercraft - if you are not on the throttle, you don’t have steering as well.”

And varying water levels - brought on by recent rain - can make things more difficult.

“There are channel markers - you’ll have green on one side and red on the other - that’s going to give you the depth of the Illinois River. If you get outside of those markers, there’s a good chance you’re going to get stuck,” Johnson said.

As hundreds get ready for a weekend on the water, one thing police continue to stress is, booze and boats do not mix.

“It’s the first of the year out, it’s starting to get the first warm days out, so make sure you have a sober operator,” Wire said.

“Limit your alcohol, have a designated driver for the watercraft, and just use common sense and courtesy,” Johnson said.

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