The Great Lakes record 100 drownings for the third straight year

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After two more weekend drownings on Lake Michigan, the Great Lakes has surpassed 100 deaths in 2022 — hitting that mark for the third straight year, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

The 100th and 101st drownings occurred on Saturday. A paddler died while participating in a canoe race near Frankfurt and a kite surfer was found unconscious in Washington Park near Michigan City, Indiana.

“The fact is that each of these people had a mother and a father. Many of them have siblings, nieces and nephews. Often other people were with them on the beach, relatives and family members. So the magnitude of the drowning is much, much larger than just a statistical number,” Bobby Pratt, co-founder of the GLSRP, told News 8.

(Graphic by Matt Jaworowski/WOOD TV8)

The Great Lakes claimed 101 lives in 2021 and 108 in 2020. The highest number of drownings GLSRP modern recordsis 117 in 2018.

Pratt said education is the ultimate solution.

“We dedicated a whole week to fire protection in October. We don’t have the same kind of solid educational program (for water safety),” Pratt said. “We do fire drills in schools, we do lockdown drills in schools, we do tornado drills in schools. Down in Illinois and Indiana they’re doing earthquake drills. And the fact that drowning will kill more people than fire, lightning, tornadoes, archers and earthquakes combined.”

He continued, “It’s a huge, huge problem and it just doesn’t get the attention that we think it deserves.”

Pratt and the GLSRP are pushing for several changes, including to the school curriculum to teach children how to play safely in the water. The organization is also pushing for lifeguards and mandatory life-saving equipment on beaches.

“We would love to see lifeguards brought back. We’d like to see more signage and more rescue gear,” Pratt said. “The state of Illinois passed an equipment law that requires (all beaches) to have life-saving equipment on the Lake Michigan shoreline. We’re trying to do the same here in Michigan and Indiana because if an incident happens, we don’t want potential rescuers getting in trouble in the water and increasing those stats.

The drowning numbers weren’t always this high. In 2014, there were only 54 reported drownings in the Great Lakes, and just 55 in 2015. Pratt believes the organization’s methods of collecting data have improved slightly, but there are many other factors contributing to the sharp increase in the number of drownings drownings have contributed.

“Those were pretty cool years. The weather plays a big role,” said Pratt. “The drownings that we have on the Great Lakes occur (usually) during periods of warm, windy weekends. The ‘W’s’ as we call them. … When we have hot, hot weekends that are windy, that’s the perfect storm.”

Pratt summarized that the warm weather is bringing more people to the beaches, while the winds can interact with the shoreline and cause more currents. Drowning doesn’t just come up, however Red flag days.

“We see drownings even on relatively calm days. There’s no really easy fix for that,” he said.

(Graphic by Matt Jaworowski/WOOD TV8)

Pratt said he doesn’t want to put people off the Great Lakes, but rather encourage them to know how to safely enjoy the waters.

“The kids in America now know how to stop, drop and roll. We want them all to learn how to spin, hover and follow,” Pratt said. “If you get into trouble in the water, whether it’s falling into a backyard pool or falling into Lake Michigan on a really rough day, turn on your back. This allows you to breathe whenever you want and helps control that panic. Hover to calm down. Drift to conserve your energy and float to notice, “Am I in a current that’s pulling me out or pulling along the shore or along the pier.”

“Then don’t try to fight against this current. We know these currents can flow faster than any Olympic swimmer,” he continued. “So swim on your back, conserve your energy, see where the current is taking you, and then swim at an angle away from the current and to safety.”

Some recent studies have repeated that “flip, hover and follow” method can be the most successful way to escape rip currents.

“There’s actually some really good research out of New Zealand, where (they found) 80% of people who had just swum were eventually brought back to shore (by the current),” Pratt said. The Great Lakes record 100 drownings for the third straight year

Dais Johnston

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