CRYSTAL LAKE – It’s full sail ahead for boating season.
After a long winter and even more snow Friday, those in the boating industry said they expect a wave of people to hit the water this year. Boating has become increasingly popular as registered vessels have increased nationally from 8.5 million in 1980 to 12.1 million in 2011.
Illinois has more than 370,000 registered boats.
“We’re only an hour away from Lake Michigan,” said Bob Remsing, owner of SailTime Chicago in Crystal Lake. “I can go out there and spend all day on the water. More people are finding it to be a relaxing experience.”
One of the biggest hurdles to boating has always been the cost, Remsing said, which is why he opened his business dedicated to lowering the cost for those who may be interested in trying sailing and power boating but could not afford it.
His business, which opened in Crystal Lake in 2005, allows people to purchase packages for fractional use of a boat in the fleet, whether it be for three times a month or more than a dozen times a month.
“The class of boats we have start at $170,000,” Remsing said. “It’s expensive to own a boat and maintain it and store it. When people see that cost and realize they can only use it for some of the year, they are more comfortable just paying for use.”
While more accessible options such as Remsing’s company have inspired more people to get on the water, so has the development of nearby lakes such as Three Oaks Recreation Area.
In just a few years of existence, the park has grown more popular each year with 60,210 people visiting the park in 2013, said Eric Helm, deputy city manager of Crystal Lake. Helm, who also supervises Three Oaks, said the weather would ultimately determine the success of the season but expects a lot of people wanting to get outdoors after the winter.
The park also added a new electric motor paddle pontoon boat after the non-motored boat proved to be a big draw last year.
“I think we’ve definitely seen that as the park has gotten more exposure, more people are not just coming to the beach but to rent boats, too,” he said. “Fishing is still definitely the most popular use for our boats, so it is mainly row boats.”
As more people get on the water, safety becomes a more important issue.
Illinois was right at the national average in 2011 for watercraft fatalities at 6.2 percent – a significant jump from a 4 percent fatality rate in 2010. Ron Barker, executive director of the Fox Waterway Agency, said renewals already are up from last year, so he expects even more people on the water.
Safety will continue to be a top priority both in making the river safer through dredging and other processes, and the boaters safer through safety courses and life jacket exchange programs.
“I think everyone is just waiting to get out there this year. They’ve had enough of the winter. We expect to see a lot,” he said. “So we’ll continue to work on ways to make the system safer. We’re always working on that.”