“Safety First” on Lake Michigan for Chicago’s Air and Water Show weekend

CHICAGO — With temperatures and lake conditions predicted to be favorable for viewing the Chicago Air and Water Shows from Lake Michigan, the Coast Guard is reminding boaters to put safety first to ensure a safe and enjoyable weekend for everyone on the water.

“The Chicago Air and Water Show is one of the area’s largest events of the year, bringing nearly 2 million spectators to Chicago’s lakefront, on land and on the water,” said Cmdr. Zeita Merchant, commanding officer of Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago. “It is critical that all boaters have a working knowledge of the rules before venturing out onto the shared waterways, wear your life jackets, and boat responsibly to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable weekend.”

According to Coast Guard statistics, 701 boaters died on our Nation’s waterways in 2016, a 12% increase from 2015. Where the cause of death was known, 80 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims, 83 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

In 2016, there were 74 reported boating accidents in Illinois, with nine fatalities and 40 injuries.

Wear life jackets at all times. The law states that you must have a life jacket for every person on board. The Coast Guard recommends you wear your life jacket at all times when boating. Donning a life jacket is much harder once you’re in the water, especially if you’re injured.

Drinking and operating a boat don’t mix, and is just as illegal as driving under the influence – Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents – it was responsible for 15 percent of boater deaths. Boating under the influence is just as dangerous as driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and just as illegal. The marine environment – motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray – accelerates a drinker’s impairment.

File a Float Plan – A float plan should be completed and left with someone who is not going out on the water. A float plan is a lifesaving tool and provides emergency responders with valuable information they need to search for a distressed boater.

Share the Waterways – Maintain safe speeds and observe “No Wake” zones to prevent capsizing smaller boats and paddlecraft.

Operator safety – You’re in charge – Operator inattention is the leading primary contributing factor in recreational boating accidents. Boaters and passengers should remain alert at all times and should keep an eye out for and, when safely possible, lend a hand to other boaters who may bay in distress.

Safety Equipment – Ensure your boat has proper emergency equipment such as flares, fire extinguishers, a signal mirror, a noise device and a VHF-FM marine radio. Communication via VHF-FM radio provides superior alerting capabilities than cell phones.

Chartering a boat – Be aware of boarding a boat which may be operating as an illegal charter, and be mindful of the dangers of using unauthorized vessel operators. Operators must be licensed to carry up to six paying passengers. This will ensure he/she has received comprehensive training on safe operating and emergency procedures. The boat must also have a valid Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection and meet all Coast Guard safety requirements.

Passengers should ask to see the operator’s Coast Guard credentials and if the vessel meets all minimum regulatory standards to carry their party. If you suspect a vessel is operating illegally or if you have any questions, contact the Coast Guard at 414-747-7182.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – People should not sit near or on the back deck of an idling boat, near the motor where poisonous exhaust fumes can build up.

Boardings: what to expect as a boater – The Coast Guard may board your vessel at any time to ensure the safety of boat operators and passengers, and to enforce federal laws and regulations. The average boarding of a recreational boat takes less than 30 minutes. During a boarding, officers will look for the proper number of life jackets onboard, ensure the required safety equipment is working properly and ensure the operator is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

See Something, Say something – Contact the Coast Guard, local law enforcement, or 911 if you see something suspicious or out of the ordinary.

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