As the warm weather rolls in and the boating season kicks off, enthusiasts across Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin are eager to hit the water. Whether you're planning a leisurely day on a lake, a thrilling ride on a jet ski, or an exciting fishing trip, it's crucial to stay informed about each state's boating regulations and safety guidelines. This guide covers the essential rules, regulations, and tips for safe boating in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.


Illinois: Rules, Regulations, & Tips

Boating Regulations for Operating Motorized Vessels

Let's dive into the rules for Illinois:

  1. Born on or after January 1, 1998: You'll need a valid Boating Safety Certificate accepted by the Department of Natural Resources to operate a vessel with more than 10 horsepower.
  2. Ages 10-11: You can operate a motorized vessel over 10 hp, but only if you're accompanied by a parent, guardian, or an adult (18+) designated by them.
  3. Ages 12-17: You have two options: complete a boating safety course and carry a Boating Safety Certificate, or be accompanied by an adult.
  4. Supervisors born on or after January 1, 1998: Must also have a valid Boating Safety Certificate to supervise young operators.
Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva

Boating Safety Course Options

You have a couple of choices for boating safety courses:

  1. Instructor-led Classes:
    • Minimum of 8 hours of in-person instruction, and it's free!
    • Topics include boating safety, equipment, navigation, laws, and emergency measures.
    • Suitable for students at a sixth-grade reading level.
    • Certificates are issued once you complete the course and turn 12.
  2. Online Self-Study Course:
    • Available from authorized providers: ($34.95), ($44.95), and ($59.95).
    • You need to pass an exam to get your certification.
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Iowa: Rules, Regulations, & Tips

Life Jacket Requirements

Safety first! In Iowa:

  • Life jackets are mandatory on all watercraft, including motorized boats, jet skis, kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards.
  • It's a good idea to wear your life jacket at all times.
Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva

Special Event Permits

Planning an event? Here’s what you need to know:

  • Permits are required for regattas, races, marine parades, tournaments, and exhibitions on state waters.
  • Apply at least 30 days in advance.
  • For events on federally controlled waters, a U.S. Coast Guard permit is necessary.
Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva

Boating Safety and Education Program

For young boaters (12-17 years old):

  • Mandatory education for operating motorboats over 10 hp or PWCs.
  • Options for earning a Boating Education Certificate:
    1. Home-study Course: Request materials via email.
    2. Online Courses:
      • BoatUS Foundation (Free)
      • iLearnToBoat Iowa ($54.95 + $5 state fee)
      • ($39.95 + $5 state fee)
      • ($34.95 + $5 state fee)

Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) Laws:

  • Blood alcohol limit: .08 percent.
  • Penalties range from serious misdemeanors to class "D" felonies, with fines, jail time, and loss of boating privileges.

Wisconsin: Rules, Regulations, & Tips

Before you hit the water:

  • Check boat and trailer lights and safety equipment.
  • Inspect life jackets for wear and tear to ensure they fit properly.
Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva

Basic Safety Tips:

  • Wear Life Jackets: Always wear a properly fitted life jacket.
  • Avoid Alcohol: Alcohol impairs judgment and reaction time.
  • Be Weather-Wise: Keep an eye on the weather and carry a radio.
  • Emergency Supplies: Keep a floating pouch with a cellphone, maps, flares, and a first aid kit.

 Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) Laws

Wisconsin law prohibits anyone from operating a motorboat or manipulating water skis or similar devices while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Anyone who operates or attempts to operate a vessel is deemed to have given consent to an alcohol and/or drug test. It is illegal for a person to operate a motorboat or use water skis, a surfboard, or other device if he or she:

  • Is under the influence of an intoxicant or a controlled substance or...
  • Has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or greater.
Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva

Cold water can be dangerous:

  • It reduces your ability to move muscles quickly, increasing the risk of hypothermia and drowning.

Make sure your boat is safe and properly loaded:

  • Don’t overload your boat with gear or passengers.
  • Follow navigation and other rules on the water, such as maintaining slow-no-wake speed near boat launches.
Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva

Additional Safety Tips

  • Sign up for an online boater education course.
  • Always tell someone your plans and expected return time.
  • Follow all local and federal regulations.

So as boating season begins across the Midwest, safety should always be the top priority. By understanding and adhering to state-specific regulations, completing boater education courses, and following basic safety guidelines, you can ensure a fun and secure experience on the water. Whether you're an experienced boater or a newcomer, staying informed and prepared will help you make the most of this boating season. Enjoy the beautiful waterways, create lasting memories, and most importantly, stay safe!

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