'Save it for the shore': Marine police urge people to stay sober on the water this summer

It's Memorial Day Weekend. The unofficial start of summer.

And the unofficial start of summer boating season.

But if your fun-in-the-sun plans include a cold beer while driving a boat or zooming around on a jet-powered personal craft, police who patrol suburban waterways have a message.

"Save it for the shore," said Illinois Conservation Police Lt. Curt Lewis, the agency's boating law administrator.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Illinois Conservation Police announced a safety campaign this week on the dangers of boating while drinking.

Lewis said the conservation police - the law enforcement arm of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources - really do want people to get outside and enjoy themselves.

"We've had a lot of people call us the 'no-fun police.' 'You guys are no fun. You don't let us have any fun.' Well, we're here to make sure that people are safe and that they get home safely, not to ruin your good time," Lewis said.

The law

Unlike driving a car, it is legal to drink alcohol while aboard a watercraft, even if you're steering. But the legal blood-alcohol limit is the same as for car drivers - .08.

Lewis warns that it is easier to become impaired on the water, due to the effects of the sun, wind, waves, water spray, vibrations from motors and bobbing of the boat.

"It (impairment) sneaks up on them," Lewis said.

That goes for passengers, too, Lewis said. Drunk passengers fall off boats. They can also knock somebody else off, or stumble onto the boat operator, causing them to lose control, he said.

And drunk or not, people who fall overboard in Illinois can be in trouble in just seconds, due to water temperatures.

Temps at the Stratton Dam in McHenry were 71 degrees Thursday, while other lakes and rivers were in the mid-50s. When you fall unexpectedly into water that cold, the body involuntarily gasps and you may suck water in to your lungs. Hypothermia can happen quickly, too.

Being intoxicated certainly won't help.

And the boat doesn't have to have a motor for an operator to get an OUI ticket. You're not allowed to row while drunk.

The Chain O' Lakes

The Illinois Conservation Police works with local police marine units, including those in Lake and McHenry counties.

Sgt. Ari Briskman, commander of the Lake County Sheriff's Marine Unit, isn't looking to spoil anyone's fun out on the water. But more than that, he doesn't want any boaters spoiling their own fun, or the fun of those around them, through reckless behavior or a lack of preparation.

That's why when he and his unit patrol the Chain O' Lakes, a portion of the Fox River and the parts of Lake Michigan that touch Lake County, the focus is education over enforcement.

"Our purpose is to provide a safe boating atmosphere on the water, and we find that we more often accomplish that through education, not issuing a ticket," Briskman told us this week. "Many times we find that people who commit a violation are not aware of it."

That said, when his team comes upon someone suspected of operating a boat under the influence, they will make an arrest.

"We've been fortunate that we haven't had any major injury or fatal crashes in recent years, and one of our jobs is to prevent that," he said.

Other tips for staying safe? Briskman said make sure your boat is equipped with enough life jackets and, better yet, wear one. Make sure your craft has enough lighting if you plan to be out after sunset. And stay humble when it comes to your skills behind the wheel.

"It's a lot different operating a boat than a car," he said. "People overestimate their ability and end up driving recklessly because they don't know what their actual abilities are."

Carjackings and Congress

With the rising number of carjackings wreaking havoc across the region - including one that turned deadly just Wednesday in Kane County - Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart is calling on Congress to get involved.

Thomas Dart

Dart this week urged federal lawmakers to pass legislation mimicking a recent Illinois law that requires carmakers to establish 24/7 hotlines to provide law enforcement with tracking information on hijacked vehicles.

"Hijacked vehicles are often used to further additional violent crimes, including armed robbery and homicide, but we can find many of these cars quickly if automakers would remove unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to providing critical location data," Dart said this week.

According to Dart's office, Cook County saw 1,838 reported carjackings last year, up 24% from 2020. Similar spikes have been reported in urban areas across the country, including Baltimore, Denver, Los Angeles, Memphis and San Francisco.

Many vehicles built after 2015 have tracking capabilities, but legal access to the data is routinely delayed when automakers do not staff existing call centers after hours, require victims to pay a service fee to activate tracking or institute other hurdles, Dart said.

To demonstrate the issue, Dart this week released audio of an officer's interaction with Acura in trying to locate a 2020 Acura sedan carjacked at gunpoint April 28 from an 85-year-old woman in Chicago.

The audio can be heard at

Lifetime of achievement

Gary Schira served as the top cop in Batavia and Bloomingdale during a 45-year law enforcement career, but his legacy stretches well beyond the West suburbs. It's in the untold lives he's helped save through his advocacy for what was a controversial proposal at the time: Illinois' seat belt law.

Former Batavia and Bloomingdale Police Chief Gary Schira recently was honored with the inaugural Russell B. Laine Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. Courtesy of Sammi King

Schira's career recently was honored by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police with its inaugural Russell B. Laine Lifetime Achievement Award.

The award - named after the late former police chief of Algonquin and Fox Lake - recognizes the member of the chiefs group who has "made a significant difference" in the association and the law enforcement profession.

Laine's daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren and three sisters were on hand to surprise Schira with the award at the group's banquet last month. Also on hand were Schira's wife, Mariann; son, Doug; future daughter-in-law, Lanette; daughter, Marie; and grandson, Owen.

Schira served 34 years in the Bloomingdale Police Department, including 23 as its chief. He left Bloomingdale in 2006 to become Batavia's chief, a position he held until his retirement in 2017.

According to the association, Schira has been a vocal legislative advocate on various issues, including the occupant-restraint law that went into effect 20 years ago, and a strong proponent of continuing education for police officers.

"But more than that, Schira is a person who gives back to others and pushes them to be their best. He has been a friend and mentor to many and still is to this day," the association wrote in an announcement of the award.

• Have a question or story idea? Email us at

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.