Anticipating a busy season, Lake County waterway agencies promote boating safety

Busy season expected as more boaters take to the waters to get outside

FOX LAKE – Randy Carson of Wauconda likes to watch the sun set from his pontoon boat.

With gas prices soaring and more boaters expected on the waterways this season, he might be taking in the view a bit more often with his boat docked.

“We just want to go out and casually go up and down the river and enjoy the views,” said Carson, who boats with his wife and family, including five grandchildren. “It’s been very relaxing, but it’s not a cheap activity.”

Like many, he expects another busy boating season in Lake County with more boaters – some new and inexperienced – hitting waterways as an alternative to indoor entertainment amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People are going to be anxious to get on their boats,” said Carson, who has been boating for the past eight years. “I think it’s going to be a real crazy time.”

All boats on the Chain O’Lakes must display a Fox Waterway Agency sticker. Carson bought his during a May 21 boating safety event hosted by the Lake County Sheriff Marine Unit, the Fox Waterway Agency and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police at the Fox Waterway Agency in Fox Lake.

The first safety check of its kind hosted jointly by the agencies as a sort of kickoff to the boating season, the event served as a way to both raise awareness of the need for boating safety and educate boaters.

About a dozen boaters attended, with many asking safety questions and some buying stickers, said Rob Bowman, field superintendent for the Fox Waterway Agency.

“We feel the message got out there and it’s going to continue to get out there,” he said. “With the concentration of boaters we have, it’s very important we get the message out and for people to hear it and live it as much as possible. Unfortunately, there have been some fatalities that could have been avoided by following basic safety precautions.”

Bowman said the agency is on track to sell as many or more boating stickers this season compared with last year.

As the full-fledge boating season fast approaches, area waterway agencies are united in efforts to start it off right.

“We want people to have fun, but we want them to do it safely,” Deputy Charles Tiedje of the Lake County Sheriff Marine Unit said.

“The last few years have been a little up for grabs because we didn’t know what to expect with the COVID shutdown,” he said. “Turns out it was crazy out there. The boat dealers couldn’t keep boats on the floor and a lot of new boaters didn’t know anything about boating regulations.”

Typically conducted on the water during the season, boating safety inspections include a check for necessary gear, such as a fire extinguisher, working horn or air whistle, a throwable life preserver and life vests, among other necessities.

Boaters often do not realize they must have enough life vests for each person on board, Tiedje said.

It’s especially important to wear life preservers while navigating smaller watercraft, such as kayaks and canoes, Bowman said.

“From my personal perspective, life jackets are the No. 1 thing you can do as a boater – to make sure your life preservers are on your boat, that you’re wearing them and that they are Coast Guard approved life jackets that fit properly,” he said.

Overlooked regulations include the need for an orange flag (skier-towing flag) to be displayed from the highest point on the boat when the boat is towing someone on water skis or other devices such as tubes. The flag lets other boaters know that someone is behind the boat, Tiedje said.

“It’s a very inexpensive thing and it’s an absolutely necessary thing because it can turn bad real quickly,” he said.

Boaters also need to be reminded that just like when driving a vehicle, driving a boat cannot be done while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. That tends to be the most common violation, said Sgt. Ari Briskman of the Lake County Sheriff Marine Unit, and among the most dangerous.

“Really, use your head. Have a designated driver,” Tiedje said.

New boaters born on or after Jan. 1, 1998, are required to take an Illinois boating safety course, he said, but he encourages all boaters to take the course if they haven’t yet or haven’t recently.

“The biggest thing new boaters don’t understand is there are no brakes,” Tiedje said. “That’s what causes a lot of accidents. They approach other boats too quickly and they don’t realize how far a boat will drift when they cut the engine.”

Boaters need to watch out for following other boaters too closely, he said, especially if a boater is towing a tuber or skier on the back.

“I think we’re seeing more people coming out on the water and we want to make sure we’re proactive in addressing safety problems,” Briskman said. “We want to make sure people go out there and have exactly what they need.”