In the choppy wake of a Sunday morning sailboat accident off the village’s sailing beach, Wilmette Park District commissioners have decided to at least revisit the concept of bad-weather-sailing restrictions.
They will do so at the October meeting of the board’s Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, “because it does merit a longer conversation,” committee chairman Michael Murdock said Monday.
Commissioners attending the committee meeting heard a report on the Sunday accident from Lakefront Manager Holly Specht.
The two men whose Hobie 18 sailboat flipped in high waves were ultimately brought back safely to shore, Specht said. But the incident called out a rescue boat from the nearby U.S. Coast Guard station, and summoned an ambulance and Wilmette Police Department squad cars to the beach, she said.
The call also prompted one of her lifeguards to go into the water, she said.
“We can’t stop a sailor from going out,” she said. “We can do what we did; we can warn them about the conditions, we can say we’ll keep our eyes on you, but we can’t prevent them from going out.”
“Why can’t we keep people from going out” with their boats in bad weather, asked board president James Brault. “It’s our beach. We close the beach to swimmers when it’s too rough.”
Recreation Superintendent Kathy Bingham said the issue has been discussed in the past, and district policy has been not to restrict sailboat access in bad weather.
Murdock said that, as a sailor, he understands the urge of sailors to hone their abilities by taking on difficult conditions.
He asked whether instigating bad-weather restrictions might open the district to liability in the case of accidents, but was told that staff don’t believe it would, since boat owners sign contracts that state they sail at their own risk.
Commissioner Darrell Graham said, “it’s hard to tell a sailor they can’t go out on the lake when the weather is bad. It’s like telling a driver he can’t go out in bad weather on the expressway.”
But Commissioner James Crowley said he thought policy should err on the side of safety, and Murdock said he was concerned when incidents such as Sunday’s put Park District employees in possible danger.
“One of our people went out under difficult conditions to help these people,” he said. “That’s what concerns me.”