Gov. Pat Quinn has approved several laws aimed at increasing boater safety on a holiday weekend that many Illinois residents are spending on lakes and rivers.
The Chicago Democrat signed the three measures Saturday. They require safety courses, set down rules for towing people on water tubes and impose stricter DUI penalties. All the laws take effect in 2015.
"Over this Fourth of July weekend, it's important that all residents stay safe while celebrating," Quinn said. "While boating is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, everyone has to take precautions and follow the rules."
State officials have reported 16 boating fatalities on Illinois waterways so far this year. Supporters say the new laws could have prevented many of these deaths.
Beginning in 2016, residents born after Jan. 1, 1998, must hold a safety certificate from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in order to operate a watercraft with a more than 10 horsepower engine.
“Boats can weigh thousands of pounds and go 30, 40, 50 miles per hour or more,” state Sen. Julie Morrison, who sponsored the law, said in a statement. “We require people who drive cars to get licenses, it only makes sense to ask people who operate powerful boats to have some safety training.”
The law exempts anyone born before 1990 along with commercial fishermen. Renters will need to take a safety course from a rental agency but will not need the certificates, officials said.
Among the new rules is legislation that brings boater DUI penalties closer in line with car-related offenses. People who are convicted of three boat DUIs or those caught operating a watercraft with revoked licenses could have their boats taken away. The penalty also applies to those previously convicted of reckless homicide or accidental death or injury.
"Boats are every bit as dangerous as cars, and boat operators should be held to the same standard as drivers," Morrison said.
Additionally, boaters towing a person must display a foot-long orange flag while the rider is in the water.