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Boaters to be required to have safety certification

SPRINGFIELD – A series of new laws designed to make Illinois’ rivers and lakes safer has been signed by the governor.

The most significant part of the water-safety package is a plan to require boat operators to obtain safety certificates, which will function much like driver’s licenses.

“Boats can weigh thousands of pounds and go 30, 40, 50 miles per hour or more,” said state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, who sponsored the law. “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 new law, originally Senate Bill 3433, will phase in safety certificates over time by exempting anyone born before 1990. It also exempts commercial fisherman, who already have to obtain specialized licenses. Renters will not need certificates, but they will have to take a brief safety course from the rental agency before they can take their boats out. The law only applies to boats with more than 10 horsepower motors.

Another one of the new laws, originally Senate Bill 2731, requires boats that are towing inner tubers, water skiers or others to fly orange flags. Several other states, including Illinois neighbor Missouri, already have similar laws. Orange safety flags are widely available for $10 or less.

The final new law in the package, originally Senate Bill 3434, allows law enforcement officials to seize boats used in the commission of serious crimes. These crimes include operating a watercraft under the influence after your boat privileges have been suspended, operating a watercraft under the influence for the third time, and operating a watercraft under the influence and causing an accident that results in death.

A similar law is already in place for cars and other motor vehicles used in the commission of crimes.

Morrison introduced the water-safety improvement plan after months of hearings, a careful study of other state’s best practices and a heavily negotiated bipartisan compromise.

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