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With summer in full swing, the rivers, harbors andlakes of Illinois are filled with recreational boaters and sailors eager to navigate the refreshing waters and soak up the summer sun. However, it is important to be cautious as crowded waters increase the dangers of boating season.

Unfortunately, these fun-filled outings can sometimes turn tragic. In 2015, the Coast guard recorded 4,158 boating accidents. Those accidents involved 626 deaths and 2,613 injuries. Where the cause of death was known, 76% of the boating accident victims drowned. Moreover, of those drowning victims, 85% were not wearing a life jacket.

Unsurprisingly, alcohol was the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Other common causes of boating accidents are operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, faulty equipment and excessive speed.


With summer in full swing, many residents of Champaign, Aurora, and Naperville will be taking lake and beach vacations. For many who live in Chicagoland, one of the most anticipated aspects of warm weather is the opportunity to go boating. Whether you will be boating on a lake or traveling to a destination where you will be boating on open water, it is important to think carefully about boating accident prevention. Alcohol is one of the major causes of boating accidents, and a fact sheet from the BoatU.S. Foundation provides information about the necessity of avoiding alcohol if you are going to spend your vacation time on a boat.

Alcohol Consumption in the Midwest Chain O' Lakes Region

According to the BoatU.S. Foundation, approximately 50 percent of all boating accidents involve the consumption of alcohol. Boating while intoxicated is a serious criminal offense, much like drinking and driving an automobile. Driving a boat while under the influence of alcohol is not just a state offense, but it is actually a federal offense that can result in fines totaling more than $1,000 and in certain cases jail time. In Illinois, a boater can be charged with a "BUI" offense, or boating under the influence of alcohol (similar to a "DUI" offense) when she or he has a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher—similar to a DUI charge. Additionally, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune, a series of new boating laws have recently gone into effect due to what the article describes as "the booze-soaked culture of boating in the area." To be sure, residents of Chicago often frequent the "Chain O' Lakes" in the summertime, which is "one of the busiest inland waterways in the country with about 23,000 registered boats." Yet often, the waterways are filled with boaters who have spent time at the nearby bars. Serious and even fatal accidents can result from boating under the influence of alcohol. As a result of this drinking culture around the waterways and a relatively recent death in the region, Chicago lawmakers created new boating safety laws. One of the major changes to the law is that "police may confiscate boats of people caught driving drunk multiple times" in addition to other penalties.

Getting the Facts About Alcohol Consumption on Boats

Why is drinking alcohol while boating so dangerous? Boating under the influence can cause serious boating accidents because it can seriously impact a boat operator's balance, impair his or her balance, and slow his or her reaction time, according to the BoatU.S. Foundation. In addition, there are a number of stressors on the water that can make drinking while boating more dangerous, including but not limited to:

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