The Land of Lincoln has had a strong relationship to the water since its founding, despite being a good distance away from any ocean. Illinois has 63 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan, and the Mississippi River makes up much of Illinois’ Western border. In addition, a substantial portion of Illinois’ Southeastern border with Indiana is the Wabash River.

Because of its location, commercial shipping has always been crucial to the city of Chicago, and Illinois by extension. The Illinois Waterway connects the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, thence to the Gulf of Mexico. The Port of Chicago also works the other direction, as the Great Lakes connect to the Atlantic Ocean via the Saint Lawrence Seaway. This connection to both arterial waterways has kept Illinois extremely relevant in commercial shipping, as both a North-South and an East-West hub.

Illinois has always retained a certain boating ethos because of its shoreline along Lake Michigan. The Illinois Waterway makes the state a necessary stop for Cruisers doing the Great Loop. That voyage is unique for the massive distance you can travel on inland waterways and wind up back in the ocean. So both power and sail cruisers frequent Illinois, but racers do to. Chicago is the starting point for the Chicago to Mackinac race, a sailboat race to Mackinac Island in Michigan that is 115 years old. Illinois has far more to offer, though. The state is 4% water, as myriad rivers and lakes cross the state.

Illinois has 242,275 registered boats, and sees 23% household participation in recreational boating. 17% of Illinoisans own their own vessels. Half of all recreational boaters are anglers, who take advantage of the numerous fishing opportunities, both in Lake Michigan and further south. All across the state, opportunities for power boats, Jet Skis, and sailboats are plentiful. Whatever your boating interest, you can find it in Illinois.

Illinois Boat Insurance

So, does Illinois require boat insurance? Not in the slightest. The Illinois state government is in line with most other states and does not require insurance on any watercraft. However, certain circumstances do require Illinois boat insurance without fail.

  • Loans: If you buy a vessel in Illinois and need a loan to do it, your lender will require you to buy Illinois boat insurance. Indeed, if your lender doesn’t prescribe some level of boat insurance, you should probably find another lender. It would be foolish for any lender to let the insurance requirement slide. Until your loan is paid off, your lender is several thousand (or hundred thousand) dollars in the red. Your boat is their collateral on that loan. If you stop paying for whatever reason, they can seize your boat.  If your boat were to sink, however, it would become useless as collateral. There would be nothing to seize. Your lender doesn’t want to lose that money, so the requirement remains. Your lender will appear on the insurance policy as the lien-holder. If you file a claim at any point, the insurance check will list your lender as the co-payee.
  • Marinas: Most marinas, yacht clubs, and dockyards in Illinois will require insurance. Marinas want to protect themselves financially from any mistakes their members make. If your vessel damages the boat of another guest, they would like to avoid litigation. They would vastly prefer your respective insurance companies take care of the issue.

Small Boat Insurance

Obviously you don’t need to worry about marina requirements if you keep your boat on a trailer or in a garage. Illinois has enough Great Lakes shoreline to attract plenty of larger fishing and cruising yachts. Illinois sees a lot of cruising visitors, whether they are doing the Great Loop, or are just exploring the Great Lakes. However, the 15,000 small lakes across Illinois ensure that hundreds of thousands of residents prefer speed boats, pontoon boats, Jet Skis, and kayaks. Some people keep their power boat at a local yacht club or marina, but many Illinois residents keep their boat on a trailer, either in a garage, or at a lot.

So if you aren’t worried about marinas or loans, is Illinois boat insurance still worth the price? It’s a reasonable question. 9% of Illinois households use kayaks or canoes. Kayaks have become the most common affordable fishing platforms across much of the U.S., Illinois included. The shallow drafts on kayaks allow them access to incredible fishing locales in smaller lakes and rivers that are inaccessible to larger craft. In addition, many folks have paid off their pontoon or speed boat, and keep them at home. Even so, we highly recommend insurance for everyone.  Boat insurance is extremely important for small boats, even if you aren’t required to have it.

Liability Coverage

You should always insure a power boat. Every year, open motorboats are involved in more accidents and fatalities than any other boat type. Even if your vessel is paid off, you should buy liability insurance to cover property damage and personal injury. You never expect an accident, but accidents on the water can be ruinous. Liability coverage is usually pretty affordable, and it can save you thousands if you need it.

You should also buy insurance on any boat you lend out, no matter how slow it is. If someone injures themselves or another person on your boat, you can be held liable, even if you were not present. In addition, Jet Skis, speed boats, and pontoon boats can be expensive. If your vessel gets into an accident, you will want insurance to help you recoup the damages.if you remain unconvinced, you can read more about pontoon boat insurance here, and power boat insurance here.

The Stats

Accident statistics in Illinois carry both good news and bad news. Boating accidents in 2016 were 25% down from 2012, when there were over 100. However, they were up 12% from 2015. Boating accidents are expensive too. Illinois boaters accrued $351,091 in damages in 2016. That averages to about $4,746 per accident. Boat insurance for most of us costs a fraction of that quantity, and it can save you thousands more.

Illinois boating accident statistics 2016

Boating Fatalities and Alcohol

The boating fatality rate in Illinois was a couple points below the national average. It also reflected a drop in boating fatalities from 2015. Boating fatalities fell 18% in 2016. Obviously, any boating fatality is one too many. We take on certain risks any time we leave shore to enjoy our nation’s waterways. Our rights to the water come along with a responsibility to engage in safe, conscientious boating practices. We need to be aware of the dangers that come with boating, and remain vigilant for the safety ourselves, our passengers, and other boaters.

Drinking alcohol makes safe boating impossible. It is perfectly natural to want to enjoy a few drinks out on the water, but you need to ensure that you designate a non-drinking operator. Accidents attributed to alcohol made up 13% of all Illinois boating accidents last year. Nationally, that percentage is under 8%. Anyone who has been out on Lake Michigan during the 4th of July fireworks in Chicago knows how many people boat under the influence. We urge you not to be among them. Nationwide, boating accidents under the influence of alcohol are far more likely to be fatal than other boating accidents. One of the most important things you can do for your safety on the water is to ensure that you designate a driver.

We know that insurance can be a tough pill to swallow. It is annoying to pay for something that you always hope you don’t need, and it can’t protect you or your boat from getting into accidents. It can protect you and your family financially if an accident occurs, however, and for that reason we strongly recommend it to all boaters, no matter what kind of boat you have.