Making the Waters Safe State Legislators Debate Merits of Imposing Tougher Laws on Boats, Personal Watercrafts

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Byline: Bill Cole Daily Herald Staff Writer

Two years ago, almost 20 percent of all reported boating accidents statewide occurred in Lake County.

One out of four boating fatalities in Illinois is linked with excessive alcohol consumption.

And personal watercraft - while representing just a small portion of all registered watercraft in the state - account for 44 percent of all reported accidents.

Those figures, offered by Lake County officials, provided the backdrop Tuesday for a state Senate Special Committee on Boat Safety hearing. About 85 people jammed Antioch's village hall for the meeting.

At issue is legislation proposed by state Sen. Adeline Geo-Karis, a Zion Republican, seeking to link drunken driving and boating, require young children to wear personal flotation devices, and place greater restrictions on use of personal watercraft.

But the legislation may go even further.

Northfield state Sen. Kathleen K. Parker, who was on hand Tuesday, said she would like Illinois to become only the third state to require boating licenses and the education that would come with them.

"That's really one of the concerns," she said. "When you drive a car, you have to have a license to operate that vehicle. But people can buy a 16-, 17-, 20-foot boat and have no idea of how to drive it."

The senators who attended the hearing were Geo-Karis, Parker, Crystal Lake's Dick Klemm, Chrisman's Harry "Babe" Woodyard and Todd Sieben of Geneseo.

Geo-Karis, who said a second hearing may be held Nov. 7 in Springfield, doubts the legislation can pass muster this year.

Already, a roadblock to the drunken driving and boating linkage exists, in part, because there is no tie-in between Secretary of State computers and those of the Department of Natural Resources.

But Geo-Karis added that after the coming hearing, "we'll get everything sifted together and see what we can pass."

"I just want people to be responsible and be responsive to safety," Geo-Karis said, "rather than take the attitude of 'We're in a boat, we don't care, we can do whatever we want.'"

An extreme example of what can go wrong when boating and alcohol mix is the July 11 collision on the Chain O'Lakes that killed three people.

Arnold Carlson, 56, of McHenry, the pilot of a boat that crashed into a cabin cruiser, was found to have a blood alcohol level of . …