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New statistics show how often drownings happen in Great Lakes

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. -- The red flags flying along Lake Michigan on Friday amplified new statistics that show just often someone drowns in the Great Lakes.

“It’s very hard to predict where they’re going to come from in the Great Lakes,” said Adam Klain, a petty officer, third class with the U.S. Coast Guard in St. Joe. “It’s like a washing machine; they come one way, and then, from the next minute another way.”

That’s how the Coast Guard describes the waves on days like Friday in Lake Michigan.

One after another, the larger waves barreled toward the shore.

As some crashed up against the piers, Klain said the strong wind keeping the red flags aloft is the main ingredient.

“There’s not predictable tides and currents,” he said. “Everything’s wind-driven, so if the wind shifts from one moment to the next, so do the waves.”

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project reported Thursday that there have been 63 drownings across the Great Lakes since 2017, and 600 drownings since 2010.

The non-profit says almost half of them happen in Lake Michigan.

Swimmers still swarmed the swells on Friday afternoon at Silver Beach.

And while some people walked along the pier to get a closer look at Mother Nature, some adventurous boaters headed out for a ride.

The Coast Guard said waves can build up to 20 feet within minutes, so you really need to pay attention if you decide to dive in.

“There could be rip currents,” Klain said. “You can get sucked out pretty fast. You need to watch for changing color of the water, change in the wind, wave height increasing. If that happens, you need to definitely swim parallel to the beach and notify a lifeguard, shout for help.”

Klain said the biggest problem the Coast Guard encounters is people not being prepared when they go out on the lake.

He said to always check your equipment – be it a boat, kayak, or something else – and always have a life jacket near you or on you.  

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