Deadly start to boating season has Illinois DNR sending warning

Local News

'The Mississippi is unforgiving,' says conservation sergeant

Recent water-related deaths in Illinois prompt a warning from authorities.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources reports 10 water and boat related deaths across Illinois in the last week of June alone.

It’s a time when we expect to see more boats on the rivers.

As the water levels drop and the weather warms up, boaters are starting to launch.

And it has conservation police on high alert.

“A mistake made on the Mississippi River can never be taken back,” says Sgt. Tony Petreikis.

Petreikis is reminding boaters of three safety tips.

First: Drive sober.

Last year, his crews gave out more tickets for that offense than ever before.

“One of the leading causes of accidents in the state of Illinois would be impaired operation,” Petreikis says.

The second tip: Be a defensive driver.

“When you’re driving a car you have a roadway that you have to stay on. A boat’s like driving in a parking lot and everybody just goes where they want,” Petreikis says.

“In a watercraft you’ve got to be aware of what’s going on all around you at all times,” he says.

Matt Miner has had some experience with that.

“I was left on the river a few years ago. I had to paddle my jet ski for about three and a half, four miles,” he says.

The avid boater says good driving means abiding by the golden rule: Never leave a boater behind.

“It takes five minutes to pull over to make sure everybody’s okay. They give you a thumbs up, move on, they give you a thumbs down, stop and make sure you give them help,” Miner says.

Petreikis’ third tip: Always wear a life jacket.

Something Miner, a life-long river user, never compromises on.

“I have an 18-year-old step son and actually today I was actually on him I said, ‘My boat, my rules.’ I don’t care where you’re at on the Mississippi River, have respect for the water and make sure that you have your life jacket on,” Miner says.

Petreikis says it doesn’t matter how old you are or how well you can swim.

“The Mississippi is unforgiving. If you fall in, you don’t really have a whole lot of mistakes you can make before it’s just one that isn’t going to bode well for you,” Petreikis says.

Both Illinois and Iowa state laws require anyone under the age of 13 to wear a life jacket if they’re on a boat that’s less than 26 feet in length.

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