Three new Illinois laws are going to affect boaters this year, including one that is going to cost a couple of bucks.
If you pull another person behind your boat on anything — tube, board, skies or parasails — the boat must fly a 12-inch by 12-inch orange flag from the moment they leave the boat. This even applies to a barefoot skier who is not riding on anything. The flag on the boat must be visible from every direction.
The flags are available in boating stores and are reasonably priced well less than $10. Mounting them is a problem because the law gives no suggestions, but a fiberglass radio antenna would work if your boat has one.
LG Marine, off U.S. Routes 45-52 on Kankakee's south side sells both hand-held flags on short poles and others equipped with suction cups that can be stuck on a boat windshield or side window, said co-owner Terry Guimond.
Skiers typically stick up a ski if they spill into the water, he said, but noted that these days, more people are being pulled on boards and tubes than on skis.
Guimond also noted that skiers in Illinois must wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device. The Illinois website notes that ski belts aren't Coast Guard-approved and recommend PDFs with high-impact ratings, so they are less likely to come off in a spill.
The skiing flag law was introduced last year by state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, in memory of her nephew, Tony Borcia. He was riding on a tube along the Chain O'Lakes in 2012 when he fell off and was struck by another boat and killed. The flag will warn other boaters there is a skier out there, and if you don't see one he may be down in the water.
A life jacket does not float a person very high in the water and seeing a part of a head sticking up in the water can be almost impossible.
Morrison also introduced another bill that brings penalties for boating under the influence more in line with those for operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
A third new law requires all persons born after Jan. 1, 1998, to take and pass a boating safety course validated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and hold a valid boating safety certificate before they can operate a motorboat with an engine over 10 horsepower.
Any course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, such as those taught by the Coast Guard Auxiliary or Corps of Engineers, qualifies a person. Those who take and pass a course in other states or Canada also qualify to operate boats in Illinois.
Those between ages 12 and 18 may operate a water craft without the boating safety certificate if they are accompanied by and under the control of a parent, guardian, or an individual 18 or older and designated by a parent or guardian.
A study course and test for the Illinois boating safety certificate is available online at www.boat-ed.com.
Nearly two years ago, also following her nephew's death, Morrison got a law passed requiring that anyone who operates a motorboat involved in an accident that causes death or severe injury must consent to chemical testing of their blood, breath or urine to determine blood alcohol or drug content. Those who refuse or who test positive for drugs or exceed the .08 blood alcohol level also face suspension of their driver's licenses.
Michigan gets tough
Michigan has toughened laws and penalties for operating watercraft under the influence of alcohol or drugs, The Associated Press reports. It now has a zero-tolerance for operating watercraft with any amount of certain controlled substances in the operator's system. For alcohol. the new law reduced the alcohol intoxication level for watercraft operators from .1 to .08 to match the law for drunken driving. For those under age 21, Michigan has zero tolerance for alcohol in their systems.
(The article is based largely on one written by Jack Tumbleson, a retired copy editor for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus and a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.)