CHICAGO - Memorial Day is just around the corner, which means the summer boating season is heating up.
The city’s beaches will officially open next Friday, May 27.
Whether you’re boating on the lake, swimming in the water, or enjoying the weather at the beach, officials say that keeping a few simple safety tips in mind could save a life.
"Water conditions change at any time," said Jason Lach, deputy district chief, Marine Dive Operations, Chicago Fire Department. "If you see something, say something. The sooner that we can respond, the faster we can get this person out of the water and into advanced life support."
The Chicago Fire Department, last year, responded to roughly 50 water incidents. This year, CFD has already responded to 12 water incidents. One of them unfolded Thursday night when a 20-year-old man was pulled from Lake Michigan near 95th Street and taken to the hospital in grave condition, officials said.
"In an emergency, every second matters, if you’re far out and stressed out, it’s really hard to gauge where you are in the water," said Gretchen Chavez, Chicago Police Marine Dive Operations. "We’re not out here to ticket everyone, but we want you to be safe and to know the local, state, and federal regulations."
Chavez warns of common violations, including failure to wear a life jacket, which is required on the water for everyone 13 and under, driving jet skis after dark, disobeying "no wake" zones on the river, and drinking and boating.
"Drinking and boating is the same thing as drinking and driving. The legal limit is 0.08 and captains are responsible for all their passengers on the boat," said Chavez.
Last year in Chicago, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, 16 people were killed in recreational boating accidents.
Officials encourage boaters to invest in a ship to shore VHF radio, which can pinpoint a boat's exact location in an emergency.
Officials with the Chicago Park District say the lakefront will be safely staffed with lifeguards this summer, but ask beachgoers not to swim if there isn't one on duty.
If you see someone in the water who is in distress, call 9-1-1 right away.
"If you are calling 911, and you’re on the lakefront, look up, because guess what? There’s a permanent pole marking right there. This permanent pole marking can give us, our call takers, the exact location of where you are," said Beverly Carrington, police dispatcher, Office of Emergency Management & Communications.
The Chicago Park District is also installing life rings in various places along the lakefront.
"National Safe Boating Week" kicks off Saturday.
The U.S. Coast Guard is hosting a water safety event from 9 a.m. to noon at the Belmont Harbor Yacht Club, 3600 N. Recreation Dr., Chicago IL 60613. It is free and open to the public.
Officials with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Chicago Fire Department and Chicago police will be on hand to answer safety questions, explain proper life jacket fit and wear, and do some demos.