Skip to main content

Boreal Emergency Preparedness Portal

Great Lakes Drownings: How to be Aware

Jul 30, 2022 08:42AM ● By Editor

Graphic: National Safety CouncilGreat Lakes Water Safety

By Katie McClung of 9&10 News • July 29, 2022

The Great Lakes are enjoyed by many, but for some, the water is an unfortunate place. 2022 has already seen 61 drownings in the Great Lakes.

As of July 23, Lake Michigan has seen the most, with at least 27 drownings so far. Lake Huron has had five, Lake Superior has had two, Lake Ontario 14, and Lake Erie at least 13.

Several of the reported drownings occurred in the early months when the water was cold. For example, at the end of May when water was still in the 40s, a man was seen jumping off of a pier in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

A body was recovered 10 days later, believed to be the same man. Many reports are often those of victims not wearing life jackets, and have fallen into the water unexpectedly.

Other accidental drownings include being overtaken by waves, or being pulled farther from shore, or children being unattended.

The shock of hitting the cold water causes sudden changes in breathing and blood pressure, and over time, reduces the ability to think. These changes increase the risk of hypothermia and drowning because of the loss of function in your body.

Hypothermia leads to exhaustion and ultimately can lead to drowning. Hypothermia happens when the body temperature falls from the normal 98.6° to below 96°.

In this case, hypothermia comes after prolonged exposure to water temperatures generally under 70°. Temperatures 60° to 70° run the risk of exhaustion and unconsciousness in as little as 2 hours of prolonged exposure. Water temperatures between 32.5° and 60° can be life-threatening in as little time as 15 minutes to an hour.

Wearing a life jacket increases your chance of survival because there is less need to struggle. Even if you keep one nearby, you run the risk of being unable to properly fasten it, because of the loss of mobility caused by the cold water.

Cold water alone is not the only threat. Strong currents and waves also take the lives of swimmers and boaters.

The strong currents that pose the most threat are rip currents. These currents form in low spots, breaks in sandbars, and near structures such as piers.

These currents extend from near the beach to hundreds of yards offshore. If you find yourself being pulled away from the shore, swim parallel to the shore to regain control. While accidental drownings are never expected, they can be avoided with the proper precautions.

To avoid accidental drownings, practice water safety. There are many organizations that supply valuable lessons and information on how to be safe in the water. (Red CrossNational Safety CouncilGreat Lakes Water Safety).

Even the most confident swimmers are at risk of exhaustion when fighting cold water or strong currents.

It is important to stay aware of hazards, not only in the Great Lakes, but all bodies of water including swimming pools, inland lakes, and rivers. Wearing a life jacket and keeping an eye on children can prevent deadly incidents.

For information regarding current water temperatures, read Great Lakes Summer: What You Need to Know Before You Go Swimming in the Lakes. You can also check out our Marine Forecast.

To see the original post and read related stories, follow this link to the 9&10 News website.

Upcoming Events Near You

No Events in the next 21 days.