How To Stay Safe Swimming In Lake Michigan | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

How To Stay Safe Swimming In Lake Michigan

Two men drowned in Lake Michigan over the weekend along separate Chicago beaches. One was caught in powerful waves at Oak Street Beach and another fell off a boat near 59th Street Harbor. Three teenagers were also hospitalized after nearly drowning in Portage, Indiana.

After the turbulent weekend, Morning Shift host Jenn White spoke with Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project about what to know to stay safe while swimming in Lake Michigan.

It’s not as easy as just knowing how to swim, Benjamin said. He cited the Red Cross saying that 54 percent of all Americans don’t have the basic ability to survive a water emergency in a pool.

“We don’t want to scare anyone away from the Great Lakes,” he said. “But knowing the scope of the problem can make you safer.”

Benjamin shared these water safety tips to keep in your pocket:

  • Keep a floating device within reach: Out of the 589 drowning in the Great Lakes since 2010, only five were wearing life jackets — and they were in extremely cold water which had an impact on their survivability. You have less than a half percent of drowning if you have a life vest or something with you that floats regardless of your swimming capability easily accessible and within reach. It can be the difference between life and death.

  • Flip-float-follow: If you’re ever struggling with water over your head or are in a dangerous rip current, we advocate that you flip-float-follow. That’s the stop-drop-and roll of water safety. So if you begin to panic, flip on your back to float and keep your head above water. Floating can conserve your energy and help to calm you down from the fear and panic of drowning. Then, follow the safest path out of the water. And we want people to know that sometimes the safest path isn’t the easiest especially when there are waves, so it can be a marathon for your life.

  • Do not panic: Panic is an emotional, irrational response to a situation. You’re likely hyperventilating, exhaling more than you’re inhaling so you’re deflating your lungs — you’re becoming less buoyant in the water. Also you’re thinking less rationally because you’re getting light-headed. Get your breathing under control, inflate those lungs.

  • Know what to look for: The instinctive drowning response or posture is to be facing shore, mouth at water level, head tilted back and the person making a climbing-the-ladder motion. When someone is actively doing this there are typically less than 60 seconds until final submersion.

  • Know the clock: People in the water two minutes or less have a 94 percent survival rate if CPR is properly performed. After three minutes under water the heart stops. After four minutes, there is irreversible brain damage begins. At ten minutes there is long-term brain injury and less than a 14 percent survival rate.

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