2020 a record year for Lake Michigan drownings

NOW: 2020 a record year for Lake Michigan drownings

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. — 2020 marked a grim milestone in Lake Michigan, with a record number of drownings in its waters – 56 total – the highest number since 2010, when the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project started tracking drownings. 

Right here at home, 15 of those 56 drownings were on Southwest Michigan shorelines.

Each summer, the message is the same for the U.S. Coast Guard, but one people can’t hear enough – making sure swimmers fully grasp water safety at the beach.

One not enough realize, despite how warm the air can be, the lake doesn’t always reflect that and jumping right in can put you in danger.

“When hypothermia sets in, you start to gasp for air and when you go underwater you start breathing that cold air in, the water comes with it and that’s how you drown, said Matthew Binns, Executive Petty Officer at Coast Guard Station St. Joseph.

Plus, as lake conditions change each day, everyone could benefit from a better understanding of water currents.

“Being able to recognize rip currents and conditions like that, knowing what do if you’re caught in a current, as far as waves, knowing what your limitations are,” said Binns.

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project just released a video that lays out dangerous currents in five minutes, explaining just how much the wind – especially in Lake Michigan – impacts the waves.

“There are several types of dangerous currents on the Great Lakes, primarily driven by the wind,” said Dave Benjamin, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. “If it’s onshore, you can have a longshore current that could feed into an outlet current, or feed into rip current going offshore, or a structural current that feeds into the pier going offshore.”

The video demonstrates five different currents and how if professional help isn’t an immediate option, one method can be effective against them all – the three Fs.

“Flip over on their back, float to keep their head above water and conserve energy, then follow a safe path out of the water,” said Benjamin.

Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project also recommends people practice floating because it’s easier for some than others.

The best way to do so is in a pool or an area of the lake where the water is calm with someone else present. 

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