This is the next of a series of columns on how the law can impact your life. Each month we will focus on various aspects of the law relating to personal injuries, those that happen both on-the-job and otherwise, including mishaps which occur in driving vehicles, using products and receiving medical care. The column will also respond to legal questions relating to personal injury that are sent to us.

HealyScanlon, formerly The Healy Law Firm, is comprised of seven trial attorneys. We are located downtown at 111 West Washington Street, Suite 1425, Chicago, Illinois 60602 (800-922-4500 or 312-977-0100). The firm concentrates in the representation of injured victims of all types of accidents.

Staying Safe This Boating Season
The boating season this year is truly unique. This year we must focus on both being safe from injury and also being safe from infection. COVID-19 has affected every aspect of our lives, social, work, as well as recreational. As to boating, while the Chicago lakefront lake path has been closed and is about to open, there has been a gradual opening of marinas, with restrictions, both locally and in nearby states. Most local restaurant restrictions apply to the food service aspect of marinas. Depending on restrictions at restaurants and marinas, it may be a good idea to pack a cooler for food and drinks.

Also, Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations on COVID apply in boating situations. Six-foot safe distancing, handwashing, and masks should be used at boat ramps, piers, and fueling areas. Occupancy of individual boats should be restricted to immediate family members. Rafting up boats or tying them together should be avoided. The Mayor of Chicago has already announced there will be no “Playpen” area this year on Lake Michigan near Chicago Avenue where power boats would tie up together, bringing together a hundred people or more.

So, when you have addressed the COVID concerns, it is a good time to have some fun and think about a few additional tips for staying safe from injury while out on the water this summer.

There are nearly 12 million registered recreational vessels in the U.S. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there were nearly 4,200 boating accidents in 2019. Those accidents resulted in over 600 deaths, more than 2,500 injuries, and caused approximately $55 million of damage to property. By using your common sense and following some of these tips, you can avoid accidents and injuries, and you can help ensure your time on the water is safe and enjoyable.

Drive Safely and Pay Attention to Others
Most importantly, drive your boat safely and make sure you are paying close attention to other boats and those not in boats: skiers, tubers, swimmers. Although waterways generally do not come with traffic lights or defined lanes – act as if you would on the roadway. Illinois law forbids a driver from operating any watercraft in a careless manner as to endanger persons or property. It specifically prohibits weaving through congested traffic, jumping the wake of another vessel unreasonably or unnecessarily close to the other vessel, passing in a manner that creates a hazardous wake or waiting until the last possible moment to swerve to avoid a collision.
Boating is one of the most enjoyable part of summertime for people of all ages. It is important to keep in mind that casual attitudes towards operating a boat can have life shattering results. Taking all necessary precautions will help ensure that your memories of boating are all positive.

•Don’t drink and drive.
Alcohol use, was again the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2019, accounting for 23% of boating deaths. Remember to drink responsibly, and to ensure that the driver of the boat is not intoxicated. Intoxicated boat operators are subject to penalties similar to those enforced against motorists who drive a car while intoxicated.

•Use extra caution at night
While fewer total accidents occur at night, as there are generally less boats in operation during that time, the percentage of accidents that result in fatalities during the night hours is disproportionately high. Of the accidents that occurred between 2:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. last year, over 34% resulted in fatalities, the highest of any 2-hour time window of the day. Compare that to accidents that occurred between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., resulting in fatalities just over 11% of the time.

Some bodies of water enforce nighttime speed limits. On Indiana waters, including open waters of Lake Michigan, a boat may not exceed 10 m.p.h. between sunset and sunrise. For boaters traveling between Illinois and Indiana,  remember that the two state’s speed limits are different if traveling after sunset and the Illinois/Indiana border is in open waters.

In Illinois, while generally no numerical speed limit is present, watercraft must be operated at a speed which allows the operator to bring the boat to a stop “within the assured clear distance ahead.” The U.S. Coast Guard Rules similarly require a vessel be operated at a safe speed so that it can take proper and effective action to avoid a collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing conditions.

In “no wake” zones, whether during the day or at night, a vessel may not exceed 5 m.p.h. in Illinois. Excessive speed accounted for the fourth leading factor in boating accidents last year.

•Be careful around the dock and while getting on and off the boat.
It is important to be aware of your surroundings when you are on and around the dock, and to use extra caution when boarding and disembarking the watercraft. Look around to make sure the footing around the dock area is solid and there are no tripping hazards in the area, such as ropes, boat hooks, or other equipment. In 2019, almost 700 accidents occurred while the vessel was docking or tied to a dock. In one case handled by our firm, we represented an individual who suffered significant injuries when he fell as he tried to step off the boat onto the dock because a portion of rubber edging around the border of the dock gave way under him as he stepped off the boat.

Accidents can also occur around the dock area if hands, arms, or legs get stuck or pinned between objects in sometimes-crowded or busy harbors. Be aware of your boat, and other boats when you are around the dock, particularly when boats are moving.

•Be aware of the weather
Weather is another major consideration when taking a boat for a summer cruise, particularly in the Midwest, where the weather conditions can change at the snap of a finger. Weather and hazardous waters accounted for over 350 accidents in 2019.

Many encounters with bad weather can be avoided altogether by planning your route in advance and checking the weather forecasts prior to setting off. It is also important to carry maps and not to be overly dependent on electrical equipment such as GPS devices or cellular phones. Many times, these devices may not be reliable for longer excursions or trips on larger bodies of water. Equipment failure caused 379 accidents in 2019.

•Make sure your boat has an experienced and attentive operator.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, and excessive speed were the top 4 primary contributing factors in boating accidents in 2019, and were responsible for nearly 45% of all boating accidents. In 2019, over 46% of boating accidents involved operators with no boating safety education. 70% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had no formal boating safety instruction. Only 20% of deaths occurred on vessels where its operator had received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.

Boating safety instruction is available through a number of courses approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). Proper safety training decreases the potential for accidents and injuries.

•Follow warnings and instructions when using jet skis and other smaller watercraft
Many jet skis, wave runners, and smaller personal watercraft pose different risks than larger boats. Many jet skis simply have too much power-producing capacity and inexperienced or younger drivers can easily lose control. Problems can go from bad to worse when the jet ski or watercraft does not automatically deactivate when the driver falls off.

Jet skis are jet-propelled, and when users fall off or are thrown from the watercraft, water from the jet propulsion system can cause severe damage to body orifices and internal organs. Healy Scanlon represented a teenager passenger who fell backwards off a jet ski as it was accelerating receiving serious internal injuries from the force of the water stream. Propeller powered watercraft also pose risks to those who may fall in the water near the vessel. “Prop guards” provide protection for some types of propeller-powered crafts. Because some of these risks are unique to wave runners and smaller watercraft, it is vital to look for and heed the warnings that often accompany these vessels. Wet suits are highly recommended when using any type of jet-propelled watercraft.
Keeping in mind these tips can make your boating experience even more enjoyable and safe.
  Martin Healy, Jr.
  Neil Schelhammer