Here's how you can keep yourself safe out on the waters this summer

Alex Gentry of Springfield boats on Springfield Lake Thursday, June 1, 2023.

At long last, summer is finally here, making it the perfect time for family gatherings, vacations and fun out on the water.

Water recreation – such as boating, fishing and swimming – can be a good way to relax and unwind beneath the summer sunshine, but it also contains the risk of serious injury or death if not done safely.

Here's a look at some tips that people can use to keep themselves and their families safe on the water this summer:

Wear a life jacket

Both the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and their law enforcement arm, the Illinois Conservation Police, are asking people to wear life jackets when they are on any water-based vehicle, such as a motorboat.

"Life jackets save lives, period," said Lt. Curt Lewis of Conservation Police.

There are different kinds of life jackets depending on which vehicle you use and the conditions in which you wear them. Type I jackets, for instance, are best used in open water where a rescue might not easily arrive quickly. It provides strong protection, but few are actually available to the general public.

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Type II and Type III jackets are split into two categories – inherently buoyant and inflatable. The former type isn't as good as a Type I on surviving in choppy waters, but it works for day cruising and fishing close to shore. The latter is heavier and more buoyant, but isn't as suitable for children.

Type III's are used for supervised activities such as water skiing and canoeing. Neither has a particularly good chance of turning someone face up in water, however.

Type IV jackets are not meant to be worn, as these are the kind of throwable device used to rescue someone who went overboard.

Type V is split into three different categories – special use, automatic inflation and hybrid inflation. All of these must be worn in order to meet Coast Guard requirements for usage.

State law requires that any boat or watercraft have some kind of life jacket or vest available for everyone on board and that they wear them when operating the vehicle.

Be sober out on the water

Conservation Police are strictly enforcing state laws regarding the operation of vessels while impaired, with Lewis pointing out that they can contain greater risk than driving a car on land.

While IDNR said that none of the six boating-related fatalities in Illinois waterways were alcohol-related incidents, they did note that Conservation Police arrested 72 people for operating under the influence last year, an increase of 10% over 2021.

The penalties for OUI range from up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine for a class A misdemeanor to 14 years in prison for a class 2 felony.

Learn what you need to do to be safe out on the water

IDNR said that most boating accidents occur between noon and 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer months, with relatively experienced boaters without any kind of classroom instruction being the primary culprits.

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The agency provides free courses that allow people to review laws and learn about how to safely operate a vessel. People can find the course that fits them best by logging onto or by calling 1 (800) 832-2599. Online courses are also available, for a fee.

No one under the age of 10 can operate a vessel and those ages 10-12 can only operate it under direct supervision from a parent. Those between the ages of 12-17 can operate a vehicle only if they have completed a course and have a Boating Safety Certificate from IDNR or if they are under direct adult supervision.

Anyone born on or after April 1, 1998 can operate a water vehicle by passing the course and having the IDNR certificate.

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Out on the water? Here's some tips to keep you and your family safe