Boaters, Agencies Offer Opinions on Proposed Boating Safety Legislation

"We are in support of the three bills," said Marc Miller, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

A standing-room-only crowd awaits the start of a boating safety hearing. Photo credit: Korrina Grom
A standing-room-only crowd awaits the start of a boating safety hearing. Photo credit: Korrina Grom
The boaters who spoke out at a public hearing Aug. 29 about three pieces of proposed legislation that would aim to make Illinois' waterways safer agreed that safety is an important priority.

"Truly, I am for boater safety," said Christopher Allen, representing Boaters United. "There are a lot of ways we can make the Chain, the lakes, a safer place."

What Allen doesn't agree with, however, is "big government" pushing legislation down on boaters. He'd rather see a boating safety initiative start as more of a grassroots movement, with boaters themselves promoting safety on waterways.

The Illinois Senate Special Committee on Watercraft Safety held the two-hour hearing in Libertyville to gauge public opinion on three pieces of proposed legislation:

  • Senate Bill 1805, which would require the display of an orange flag while towing a person, including a person on an inner tube or water skis. The flag would need to be displayed when the person enters the water and while he or she is being towed, until he or she is back in the watercraft. This would pertain only to motorboats.
  • Senate Bill 1478, which would prohibit anyone born on or after January 1, 1990 from operating a watercraft without a valid Boating Safety Certificate issued by the Department of Natural Resources.
  • Senate Bill 1477, which would suspend the drivers license for three months of any person who is found to have operated a watercraft under the influence, upon a second conviction.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the room, listening as representatives from various Illinois agencies—and a handful of boaters—shared their opinions.
Committee chair State Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, noted that of the more than 220 people who registered to testify at the hearing, 161 registered as opponents of the legislation.

Marc Miller, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said his agency "supports water-based recreation of all kinds. But we only do so when those things are done in a responsible and safe manner.

"If you add alcohol or illegal substances to that, it is a recipe for certain disaster," said Miller. He noted that so far this year, 51 people have been arrested for operating under the influence on the Chain O'Lakes. In 2012, there were 209 OUI arrests statewide, and 100 of those occurred on the Chain.

"We are in support of the three bills," said Miller.

Illinois Conservation Police Sgt. Jamie Maul said that tying operating under the influence convictions to an individual's drivers license could serve as a deterrent. Some people who spoke at the hearing, however, disagreed. Rob Hardman said he feels that Senate Bill 1477 would put an undue burden on the boating community. 

"People should not be not be allowed to operate a boat while intoxicated. However, one item does not have anything to do with another," Hardman said of tying OUI convictions to a person's drivers license.

Attorney David Zipp said such legislation would have "a chilling effect" on the businesses on the Chain and that the legislation seems to only target Illinois boaters. 

"You're opening a slippery slope," said Zipp.

Libertyville resident Margaret Borcia, however, supports the measure. Her son, Tony Borcia, was struck and killed by a boat after he fell off of an inner tube on Petite Lake in July 2012. The driver of that boat, David Hatyina, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a charge of aggravated DUI. 

"The man that killed Tony had a previous OUI," said an emotional Borcia. "If he thought he might lose his license, maybe he wouldn't have been driving that day."

Morrison said the senate committee plans to hold similar hearings statewide.
Brian L. August 30, 2013 at 02:26 PM
Not one of the laws seems unreasonable for safety. People complained when seat belts were made mandatory as well. Just because there is change doesn't kill the recreation. If you drive a motor vehicle while intoxicated (car, boat, jet ski, plane, etc) you should most definitely receive a suspension to your D.L. Poor judgement is the same across all platforms.
PureNRG August 30, 2013 at 09:40 PM
The new laws are being put under the ILCS Vehicle code. Road vehicles, planes, trains, and boats operate differently and should be dealt with differently. Safer boating through education and some form of training with certification or licensing (as with cars, trucks, planes, trains etc.) would be a better way to go, then if you are breaking a boating law then you will be held accountable under boater laws. They are different modes of transpiration and should be dealt with as such.
Brian Grams September 05, 2013 at 01:05 PM
I agree with pureNRG. First off, you do not need to have a drivers license to drive a boat. So what about those people who do not have drivers licenses to begin with? Also, if someone gets a DUI with their drivers license, they can still operate a boat. This is a one way street. Boating intoxicated should be dealt with but within its own realm.
Brian L. September 05, 2013 at 03:57 PM
I get both of the comments here and they do makes sense, but it seems that one of the issues the boaters had at the meeting was more and more government red tape. Both of you have made more red tape either way. The main problem I would have with both of your suggestions is that we would then need more "police" out on the lakes to monitor your boat license and intoxication adding to the issues. No person should ever drive a car or operate a boat drunk or high. The repercussions should always be fierce. I am still a large advocate of forcing you to fund an ignition lock breathalyser on motor vehicles (all) after one offense.


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