Lake Michigan water rescue drills resume as summer returns

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The return of warm weather means people are flocking back to beaches and Lake Michigan, and that means more water rescues.

Scott Flaviin's taking no chances as he prepares his 30-foot craft Easy Living to head out onto Lake Michigan for the first time in a long time.

"You got to go through the list to make sure you have life preservers for each person, fire extinguishers, flares, make sure your radio is working," he said.

Local public safety officials are once again joining a national push to encourage safe boating and water safety in advance of the Memorial Day holiday weekend..

This year's efforts kicks off with National Safe Boating Week, which start Saturday.

"The event is one week long and it highlights events throughout the year," said Commander Stephen Pickard, U.S. Coast Guard.

As the Chicago area reopens from pandemic lockdown, more people than ever are expected to flock to the lakefront.

"So when you are out there we want to make sure you're being responsible boaters," said Sgt. Joshua Mooi, Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources Conservation Police

According to the latest data available from the IDNRCP, which patrols Cook and DuPage counties, in 2020 there were 104 boating accidents, 17 of which were fatal. In 2019 there were 75 boating accidents, 13 of which were fatal.

With more people on the water, officials are warning about Operating Under the Influence charges, the same as a DUI but for boats, and which applies when captains are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Authorities hope their presence will be a reminder to be careful, not just on the water but also in the water.

There's been an increase in the number of drowning in Lake Michigan. According to the water safety advocacy group The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, so far this year there have been 6 drownings in Lake Michigan to date and 15 in the Great Lakes so far. In 2020 there was a total of 56 drownings in Lake Michigan and 109 in the Great Lakes.

The Coast Guard also has a boating safety app where you can look up regulations, information about equipment as well as report boating incidents.
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