Sports WSIL TV 3 Southern Illinois

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REND LAKE, Ill. -- Many will be out on the lakes here in Southern Illinois celebrating the 4th of July, but experts are urging caution before you go out on the water.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, life jackets could have saved the lives of more than 80% of boating fatality victims. That's why Conservation Officer Tim Lay says it's important to make sure the correct flotation devices are worn and readily available. 

"First of all, you want to make sure that you’ve got life jackets for everybody that’s on board the boat," Lay explains. "They need to be size-appropriate, in serviceable condition, readily accessible, and Coast Guard approved."

When it comes to children and pre-teens, the rules are even stricter: "If you’re under the age of 13, then you have to wear a life jacket at all times," Lay says. 

For those who own boats 16 feet and longer, it's also required to have a Type IV flotation device." A rope is not required to be tied off to this, but I recommend that you do. That way, if you have to throw this to someone in distress, if you have a rope tied to it you can repeat that if they can’t get to it." 

Lay points out that there's a towing rule, which has only been in place for a few years, and many boaters are still unaware of it. "You need a 12x12 blaze orange flag, and that has to be mounted some place around where the operator sits and has to be visible 360 degrees." 

Many boaters will be on the water until firework displays are over, so Lay says it's imperative to make sure the vessel's light are working beforehand while it's still light out. But, once the sun does go down watch your speed and be mindful or your surroundings. 

For additional safety tips, click here.

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