Boating Lakes in Illinois
We’re so grateful for all bodies of water in the Prairie State, especially lakes! Here are some of our favorite lakes for boating in Illinois:
- The cleanest lake in Illinois
- The largest lakes in Illinois
- Boating laws in Illinois
What is the Cleanest Lake in Illinois?
Lake Le-Aqua-Na is the cleanest (and clearest) lake in Illinois. It is a forty-three-acre artificial lake with a maximum depth of twenty-three feet. It uses a unique filtration method and is monitored by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The water is kept pure by natural plants and carefully selected fauna. This, coupled with debris collection, macrophyte harvesting, and algal control, makes this lake one of Illinois’ most scenic bodies of water.
The Largest Lakes in Illinois
Lake Michigan is the largest lake in Illinois, with 14,339,840 acres of surface area and 1,500 miles of coastline. It was naturally formed over a billion years ago when tectonic plates broke free in what is now known as the Midcontinent Rift.
This lake primarily sits between Michigan (lower and upper peninsulas) and Wisconsin. The northeast corner of Illinois is covered by lake Michigan, and the only Illinois access is through Chicago and the sprawling towns and cities surrounding it.
While this massive lake once supported a robust fishing industry, the fish population has significantly declined in the past two decades. However, this result is clear, more transparent water with much fewer algal blooms.
Still, Chinook salmon, steelhead salmon, coho salmon, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, white bass, bowfin, walleye, lake trout, rainbow trout, yellow perch, sheepshead, and many other fish species call this massive lake their home.
Carlyle Lake, sitting in the southwestern section of Illinois, is the second largest lake, with 26,003.2 acres. It is an hour east of St. Louis and an hour and a half southeast of Springfield.
This lake was created upon the completion of the Carlyle Dam in 1967. The dam sits upon the Kaskaskia River, best known for its sailing excursion, as winds here are strong and the water is challenging!
This 18,899.2-acre lake offers 162 miles of shoreline and sits in the South Central region of Illinois. It supplies fifteen million gallons of water to more than a quarter of a million local people daily.
Like Carlyle Lake, it was also constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers. It was created on the Big Muddy River.
You can get some major fishing done at Rend Lake! It houses largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, channel catfish, flathead catfish, blue catfish, carp, and white bass.
Other large Illinois lakes worth your while:
- Lake Shelbyville, at 11,097.6 acres.
- Crab Orchard Lake, at 6,963.2 acres.
- Clinton Lake, at 4,896 acres.
- Lake Springfield, at 4,259.84 acres.
- Kinkaid Lake, at 2,750.08 acres.
- Lake Decatur, at 2,732.8 acres.
- Horseshoe Lake, at 2,400 acres.
- Lake of Egypt, at 2,224 acres.
- Baldwin Lake, at 2,017.92 acres.
- Cedar Lake, at 1,749 acres.
- Anderson Lake, at 1,363.84 acres.
Illinois Boating Laws
Don’t boat under the influence
Operating a boat with a blood alcohol content (BAC) that exceeds .08% or boating while under the influence of other illegal prescription drugs can easily result in a Class A Misdemeanor!
Repeat offenders are subject to a Class 4 Felony, which may mean up to twelve years (and a minimum of one year) in prison. Boating under the influence and causing a fatal accident is a Class 2 Felony, with a maximum of fourteen years in prison (a minimum of three years).
Always wear a personal flotation device
Every person must have at least one personal flotation device (PFD), also known as a life jacket, aboard. Your PFD must be Type I, II, or III. For boats that are sixteen feet or longer, it is required to also have a Type IV PFD aboard.
For people who are on personal watercraft (PWC) or pulling someone on a pull-behind toy, water ski, or tube, there must be a PFD aboard (or on the person) for each person involved. If it is not on the person, it must be in good shape, within reach, and easily accessible.
Children who are thirteen or younger must always wear their PFD — simply having it aboard is not enough.
Don’t drive recklessly or carelessly (especially on a boat)
Always bear to the right when you are approaching another boat head-on. Always give the right of way to overtaken vessels. Yield to rowboats, kayaks, canoes, and sailboats. Pay attention to your vessel’s wake, and do not create a hazard for others due to your speed or resulting wake.
- Weave through congested traffic.
- Jump the wakes of other boats on the water.
- Drive or ride unnecessarily close to other boats.
- Ride or sit on the gunwales while the boat is in operation.
Remember to slow down when your visibility is obstructed, like in the event of rain, fog, or other inhibitors. And take caution to not overload your boat with passengers or cargo beyond a safe carrying capacity. This can lead to people or objects falling overboard or the boat capsizing.
Remember to follow proper towing procedures, which include:
- Using a boat that can hold a minimum of three people.
- Maintaining at least two sober, competent people on the vessel.
- Towing during the daylight hours and never between sunset and sunrise.
- Do not drive or ride through areas where a person being towed could collide with another person, object, or shoreline.
- Display a bright orange flag that is a minimum of twelve by twelve inches. Secure it at the highest point surrounding the boat’s helm to ensure that it is visible from all directions.
Careless operation, even without the influence of drugs or alcohol, is a Class B Misdemeanor. You can receive a Class A Misdemeanor or Class 4 Felony if you aggravate or injure another person or harm their property.
More on lawful boating in Illinois
The boat you’re in should hold a valid registration and title. In Illinois, boats must visibly display their registration number. Some waterways will require special permits for boating and it’s best to look into this before adventuring into new waters.
You can use our safety equipment checklist and search through our many guides, tips, and other checklists here! Prepare for your day on one of Illinois’ great lakes and rent a boat (and even a captain) when ready!