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Illinois looks to reduce boating injuries, deaths this summer

It’s boating season and Illinois waterways are more crowded than ever. Stay alert. Stay sober.  

If Dave Coxhead, director of training for Freedom Boat Club in Chicago, has one safety message for people out on the lake, it’s ‘Pay Attention.’

“Paying attention is a big, big thing,” Coxhead, who has been training boaters professionally for 30 years, emphasized to The Center Square. 

People don’t realize how many hazards there are out there, he said. 

From all kinds of watercraft and swimmers to submerged objects and debris, a smart boater is always paying attention, Coxhead said.

“The Coast Guard recommends that not only the driver is paying attention, there should be another person upfront as a lookout. The lookout should be watching the water and communicating what they see with the boat operator,” Coxhead said.

Everybody in the boat needs a life vest that fits, Coxhead said. He tells boaters to put their life jackets on before they get into the boat.

Coxhead recommends inflatable lifejackets. 

“They are so comfortable, you barely know that you have it on,” Coxhead said. 

If there are children on the boat, they need appropriately-sized life jackets. 

“You can’t just put a kid into an adult life jacket, because when they hit the water, the jacket goes up over the child’s head. It’s not going to protect them at all,” he said.

Whether a person is tubing, paddleboarding, jet skiing or cruising in an outboard, everybody on the water needs a life jacket, Coxhead said.

 “People tell me ‘I’m a good swimmer.’ That won’t matter if the person gets dazed or knocked out in a boat crash,” he said. 

In 2022, six people in Illinois were killed in boating accidents. Four of them were not wearing life jackets.

To stay safe when out on the water, get some education, Coxhead recommends. 

“At the very least, learn the basics,” he advised. “Too many people don’t understand that driving a boat is not the same as driving a car.” 

The controls may look like the controls of a car, but a boat handles very differently. There are a lot more elements to contend with. 

“The basic skills of handling a boat are significantly different than driving a car,” he said.

On the open water, there are no stop signs, stop lights, lanes or other signals to tell the boat operator when and where to go. Training like the “5 Tips to Cross a Wake Safely” module on the Freedom Boat Club website Wake Crossing Tips can be invaluable, Coxhead said.

Drinking while driving a boat is reckless, Coxhead said, but unfortunately, too many people have not gotten the message.

“Drinking and boating seem to be part of the culture,” he laments. “It is even more risky to drink and operate a boat than it is to drink and drive a car,” Coxhead maintains.

Last summer 72 boaters were arrested for operating a boat while under the influence, Illinois Department of Natural Resources said.

Most boating accidents happen on weekend afternoons in the summer when the water is calm and the weather is clear. Most accidents involve people in open motorboats who are speeding or driving in a careless manner, IDNR said in a news release.

The Freedom Boat Club website has information on the types of life jackets to buy and links to free online and in person classes. IDNR offers free boating safety classes all across the state.

Source: Advantage News