Legislation signed Thursday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker now mandates the placement of rescue equipment along Lake Michigan access points, including piers.
The Lake Michigan Rescue Equipment Act also requires warning signs in high-incident areas and creates guidelines for reporting drownings.
The new act, which takes effect a year after signing, puts to bed a battle between the Chicago Park District and water safety advocates over the installation of life rings along the city’s lakefront. Advocates pushed for the rings after a series of drownings, including the death of 19-year-old Miguel Cisneros in August 2021.
Park District officials had argued the life rings would encourage swimming at prohibited places and times and open up the city to liability.
Chicagoan Halle Quezada Rasmussen, who witnessed a drowning in 2018 and was among the strongest critics of the Park District’s stance, lauded the new law.
“When the unthinkable unfolds, we will have a fighting chance at survival,” she said in a statement. “I am so grateful to everyone who made this progress possible — if we can reduce preventable deaths, we should and now, we are.”
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward), whose ward contains a number of North Side beaches, praised the grassroots effort that led to the legislation.
“The passage of this law is an example of how democracy should work,” Hadden said. “Thank you to the community leaders who implored us to do more to prevent further tragedies at our lakefront.”
According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, of the 100 drownings in the lakes in 2021, 48 occurred in Lake Michigan. To date in 2022, 13 people have drowned in Lake Michigan.
“This is great progress toward a safer Lake Michigan shoreline, with so many more life rings becoming available,” said Jamie Racklyeft, executive director of the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium, in a statement. “This successful bill can now serve as a template for other Great Lakes states, counties, communities, and parks interested in ways to keep their residents and visitors safer around the water.”