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updated: 7/2/2013 5:24 PM

Expect more boat patrols on Chain, Lake Michigan to boost safety this holiday weekend

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  • The U.S. Coast Guard performs a water rescue demonstration off Waukegan Harbor.

    The U.S. Coast Guard performs a water rescue demonstration off Waukegan Harbor.
    Steve Lundy/Daily Herald file photo, 2006

  • The Lake County sheriff's marine units will patrol the Chain O' Lakes during the holiday weekend.

    The Lake County sheriff's marine units will patrol the Chain O' Lakes during the holiday weekend.
    Paul Valade/Daily Herald file photo, 2011


The Lake County sheriff's marine unit and the U.S. Coast Guard will launch extra patrols during the upcoming holiday weekend to keep drunks from operating boats on the Chain O' Lakes and Lake Michigan, officials said.

Independence Day weekends typically are especially busy periods for the marine unit, Sgt. Louis Kent said.

More boaters than usual are expected this weekend because the weather hasn't been favorable to boaters so far this season, he said.

Additionally, no-wake rules that were implemented after last week's heavy rains and have limited boat speeds on the Chain and Fox River could be lifted by this weekend, officials said.

That could lead to more boats on the water, too.

"In order to keep everyone safe on the water, the marine unit will be out in force, conducting boat safety inspections and monitoring boaters for unsafe behavior," Kent said in an email. "We will have extra boats out on all days and they will stay out into the early morning hours."

If the no-wake restrictions -- capping boat speeds at 5 mph -- remain in place, traffic could be dramatically reduced. That was the case last weekend on the Chain, Deputy Chief Brian Keller said.

"The boat traffic ... was sparse at best," Keller said. "(It) changes the dynamic of the situation out there."

Local weather and the water flow into the Chain and the Fox River from the north will determine if the order is lifted, officials said.

As the holiday falls on a Thursday this year, extra patrols actually will begin Wednesday and continue through Sunday, Kent said.

"The Lake County sheriff's office takes (drunken) boating very seriously and has a zero-tolerance policy when dealing with intoxicated boaters," Kent said.

The Coast Guard is targeting drunken boaters this week, too. Crews will be especially active during fireworks shows over the lakes and in high-traffic areas.

"Safety is our No. 1 priority," said Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Laughlin. Laughlin is with the Coast Guard's Cleveland-based 9th District, which oversees all operations on the Great Lakes.

This past weekend, the Coast Guard put more crews on the Great Lakes for longer patrols as part of Operation Dry Water, she said. It specifically targeted drunken boaters.

The legal blood-alcohol limit for boaters in Illinois and most other states is .08 percent. The limit is .10 in Michigan waters.

Operation Dry Water has ended, but boaters can expect more Coast Guard patrols during the holiday weekend, too, Laughlin said.

Some suburban police departments patrol local lakes. In Wauconda, the one-boat marine unit will be out on Bangs Lake during the holiday, Police Chief Douglas Larsson said.

Larsson expects more boaters than usual over the next few days but not any problems with drunken or reckless boaters. Wauconda is a boating community, he said, and residents respect each other on the water.

Lake Zurich's namesake lake is privately owned and not open to the public, but police will patrol it this weekend, Chief Patrick Finlon said. Like Larsson, he doesn't expect problems during the holiday.

Drunken boaters aren't the only danger on the water, particularly on the Great Lakes. People need to beware of dangerous currents, whether along the shore or farther out, Laughlin said.

She urged people going into water higher than their waists to wear life jackets, whether on boats or on foot near a beach.

"I can't stress that enough," Laughlin said. "Life jackets, just like seat belts, will only save your life if you're wearing them."

Laughlin also urged anyone enjoying aquatic activities this weekend to file float plans with someone remaining on land. Whether you're boating, fishing or taking a stroll on a beach, tell someone where you're going, what you're doing and when you expect to come back, she said.

Kent offered some safety advice, too.

Boaters should perform overall safety checks of their vessels before taking them out, he said. That includes ensuring boats have working navigational lighting, personal flotation devices for everyone on board, working fire extinguishers and horns or whistles.

Kent also said people should think twice about swimming, water skiing or tubing outside of designated swim areas on the Chain O' Lakes due to the expected heavy boat traffic.

The larger, faster boats that could be on the lakes have less room to maneuver around people in the water, he said.

Additionally, people should report any unsafe or reckless boating behavior they may observe, Kent said.

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