Lake Michigan on track to have one the deadliest years for drownings

Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 7:08 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - This year is on track to be one of the deadliest years along Lake Michigan with over 20 people drowning so far.

So, on Monday in South Haven they were talking lake safety along the lake shore. 16 News Now was at Van Buren State Park as families learned how to avoid tragedy.

“First and foremost, the flag system is a tool for lifeguards to use, not a replacement for lifeguards, and well unfortunately the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has been using them as a replacement for lifeguards,” Dave Benjamin, Executive Director of Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, says.

So, Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project is out teaching water safety to families, hoping to save lives and keep swimmers out of the water on red flag days when the water is dangerous. However, a lack of lifeguards has some people seeing red. I’m told there have been none in South Haven for over 40 years.

“Since ending the lifeguard program we’ve had numerous drowning deaths, even on what were green flag days,” Kameron Daugherty, South Haven LIFE: Lifeguards in Full Effect. Here is a link to their Facebook page:

The Lake Michigan waters have certainly proven to be deadly and this year is on course to be one of the deadliest.

According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, there have been 21 drownings so far this year in 2021. Around this same time in 2020 there were 22 drownings and 2020 was the deadliest year for Lake Michigan on record with 56 drownings.

Some say this flag system isn’t quite working.

“The second problem we have with the flag system is they are not updated in a timely fashion. So the message is not there. The third problem we have is there has been no enforcement for people entering the water on red flag days,” Benjamin adds.

There is a proposal to allow Department of Natural Resources Officers to be able to enforce red flag days and keep people out when the water is rough. Learn more about that here:

Now, for GLSRP it’s all about education, teaching people to stay alive and respect the beautiful but unforgiving Lake Michigan waters.

“These drownings, most of them could be prevented if we had lifeguards at the beaches and for some...people get in trouble in the water a lifeguard is going to be the difference between life and death for them,” Benjamin says.

Here is the original press release from Saturday from Great Lakes Surf and Rescue Project:

Red Flags Flying and Thousands of people are in Lake Michigan

Would the Proposed DNR Order to Enforce Red Flags Work?

Lake Michigan Drownings are on par for another record-breaking year

Lake Michigan Water Safety Presentation Monday at

Van Buren State Park Campground

MICHIGAN – Red Flags are flying in South Haven, Michigan today. South Haven had recently released a Beach Flag Rule Sheet (attached), which states on Red Flag Days, “No Swimming” and “Stay off Piers”.

And as you can see from the attached photos and at these live web cams (South Haven City Cam and Horizon Broadband cam), there is no enforcement of these rules in place. People in the water. People on the pier. No enforcement. No Lifeguards on duty. And this is happening at most all Michigan Beaches today.

“Today is a dangerous day to be in the lake, especially off of the South Beach,” South Haven, Michigan resident Kameron Grieves Daugherty posted on the Facebook “South Haven L.I.F.E. - Lifeguards in Full Effect” page. “And there are people [in] pictures here who are too close to the pier. My stomach is in knots.”

Daughtry has been leading the call to bring Lifeguards back to South Haven since a 2019 drowning of a 10 year old boy and 3 drownings in 2020. She is currently running for a city council seat to get this job done.

“People don’t get the flag system. Excitement overrides common sense. Lifeguards are needed to educate and explain as well as save lives,” Sue Chambers posted on the Facebook thread. Chambers lost her grandson, Brandon, to a South Haven drowning incident last Labor Day.

“The flag system is a tool for lifeguards to use and not a replacement for lifeguards,” said Dave Benjamin, GLSRP Executive Director. “Lifeguards really need to return to the beaches.”


A new proposal by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources would make it illegal for swimmers to enter the water from state-managed beach areas during red flag days or when other dangerous conditions exist.

“So, we must look at this proposed Red Flag order and seriously consider how would this be enforced? Would there be 100′s of DNR officers getting paid overtime scattered along the Lake Michigan shoreline to enforce and fine individuals for entering the water,” Benjamin asked.

“The GLSRP is not opposed to enforcemnt of Red Flags for “swimmers” and “waders”, but believe that extreme water enthusiasts like surfers, kite surfers, pro-style boogie boards, etc. should be exempt fromt he order.“”The simplest and most effective way to enforce red flags and save lives on red flag days would be to bring back lifeguards,” Benjamin concluded.


Lake Michigan drownings are on par to meet or exceed the deadliest year on Lake Michigan. To date in 2021, there have been 21 Lake Michigan Drownings. On this same date in 2020, there were 22 Lake Michigan drownings. 2020 was the deadliest year with 56 Lake Michigan drownings.

Overall, there have been 43 Great Lakes Drownings to date in 2021; 21 of those in Lake Michigan. There have been 989 Great Lakes Drownings since 2010 (+4 last listed in critical condition)


The GLSRP will be performing a Lake Michigan Water Safety Presentation at Van Buren State Park Campground Pavilion, Monday, July 26, 2021, 10 a.m. EST.

The presentation will address the following topics:

1. The Scope of Drowning: The Big Picture of the Drowning Statistics – Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death.

2. The Signs of Drowning: The Hollywood Version vs. the Actual Version and How to identify a person in trouble.

3. Drowning Survival Strategies: Flip, Float, and Follow

4. Great Lakes Dangerous Currents: Winds = Waves = Dangerous Currents (rip, longshore, structural, and outlet currents and offshore winds); i.e. how, where, and why dangerous currents occur and how to survive them

5. Basic Beach Safety: “Know before you go”; Swim near a lifeguard; Know where the emergency call boxes and rescue equipment are located; Wear a life jacket; “Steer clear of the pier”; know the signs of drowning and know Flip, Float, and Follow!

6. Basic Water Rescue: Reach. Throw. Don’t go. Water rescue is very dangerous. Often times the ‘would-be’ rescuer also becomes a drowning victim. It’s important to understand how a flotation device such as a throw ring, throw rope, surfboard or other objects that float can rescue a person in distress or in a dangerous current.

7. Basic Water Resuscitation: The GLSRP encourages everyone to enroll in lifesaving, first aid and CPR training from accredited agencies

ABOUT THE GLSRPThe Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, Inc. (GLSRP) is a nonprofit 501c3 corporation that is about saving lives!


  • Tracks the Great Lakes drowning statistics (935+ drownings since 2010)
  • Performs “Great Lakes Water Safety” presentations and trainings (Over 850+ in 7 of the 8 Great Lakes states since 2011)
  • Works with family and friends of Great Lakes drowning victims to advocate water safety.
  • Hosts Open Water Surf Lifeguard Training and First Responder In-service Training
  • Leads the Great Lakes Water Safety Public Relations and Media Relations Campaigns

Mission: To eradicate drownings by being the leader of Great Lakes water safety by providing training, public preparedness, and public awareness.

Vision: Everyone in the Great Lakes region, nationwide and worldwide, is knowledgeable, engaged and proactive in water safety with an emphasis on the Great Lakes region.

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