Everyone loves a brisk boat ride in Chicago: the freshwater spray, the sun on your face, and the opportunity to unwind make any trip a precious memory. Whether your preference is a sedate cruise down the Chicago River or a fast water ski jaunt across Lake Michigan, there are plenty of open-water recreation activities in the Windy City that make it such a hot destination for summer fun.

However, what began as a great trip can turn into a nightmare within a manner of seconds should you get into a boat accident. These are perilously common across the waters in Northern Illinois, with hundreds being injured in waterways every single year. Injuries can range from a scraped knee to a severed spinal cord, or worse – death by drowning.

Should you be heading out onto the water for a yacht party on a private boat or an architectural cruise on the river, keep these water safety tips in mind every time you step onto any watercraft, no matter its size.

Always Wear a Life Vest

Personal flotation devices or life vests are non-negotiable when you’re in open water: it doesn’t matter if you’re kayaking close to shore or way out in the lake; you must wear a life vest at all times.

Also ensure that everyone around you, especially children, is wearing proper flotation devices. On a chartered cruise, know where the life vests are in case of an emergency, and make sure your children know how to put them on by themselves.

Have Three Points of Contact With the Vessel

Make sure that you always have both feet planted firmly on the ground and at least one hand holding onto the boat itself, whether that is a railing or a chair. The water can become unexpectedly choppy, or the driver may perform a sudden maneuver to get out of the way of oncoming traffic; if this happens, you can easily be thrown overboard and seriously injured.

Stay seated whenever possible and try to remain as low as possible in the boat itself at all times. Don’t ever climb rigging or rails unless you are explicitly directed to by a qualified operator.

Read Up on Boat Safety Before You Head Out

Even if you’re not the one driving the boat, you should have a working understanding of how a boat operates; this can help you identify if the driver is acting recklessly and make an action plan to get help. It will also assist you in knowing what to do in an emergency so that you can act quickly, potentially saving lives.

The United States Coast Guard has an incredibly comprehensive and helpful guide that explains the laws surrounding maritime travel, how to communicate with law enforcement, what to do in the event of an emergency, and how to stay afloat if you are thrown overboard. If you’re pressed for time, be sure to read the “Safety and Survival Tips” section first before tackling any of the other content.

Ask to See Any Qualifications the Operator May Have

This may feel uncomfortable, particularly if you are boarding the watercraft of a friend or acquaintance, but it may be the difference between life and death for you and your loved ones. Over 74% of watercraft accidents are the fault of an inexperienced driver who has not taken the proper boat safety courses, so you need to know that the person driving you out onto the lake is capable of handling an emergency.

Most cruise companies will have the certifications of their operators plainly posted both on the vehicle and on their website, but they should be willing to accommodate you should you ask directly before boarding.

If you’re at all uncomfortable with the situation or if the driver refuses to give you proof that they can safely operate the vehicle, know that you can always leave. It’s better to miss out on the sunk cost of a ticket or free yacht ride than to be aboard a sinking ship.

Know Your Rights

If the unthinkable happens and you are injured in a boating accident, know that you can get help: a Chicago boat accident lawyer can be an excellent resource to guide you through the choppy waters of the legal system and get you the compensation you deserve.

They will be able to identify potential defendants in a lawsuit, ascertain whether there are any insurance companies involved, and communicate directly with those responsible so that you can focus on healing and caring for yourself during this difficult time. You may be able to receive compensation for the pain and suffering caused by the accident, as well as medical bills that you have incurred during your recovery.

Final Thoughts

Beautiful as Lake Michigan is, it has seen thousands of tragedies over the course of its history; in fact, there are 600 shipwrecks encapsulated in its murky deaths. Accidents do happen, and it is always better to be safe than to be sorry.

Always wear a life vest, keep three points of contact with the vehicle, become familiar with boat safety, and ask to see the qualifications of a boat driver before boarding. If something does occur, do know that you can get justice for your boat accident by working with an experienced Chicago attorney.