Fourth of July drownings prompt safety reminders for beachgoers

Published: Jul. 6, 2023 at 6:22 PM EDT
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NEW BUFFALO, Mich. (WNDU) - Summertime is when Michiana families head to the beach, and while it can be the best way to spend your day off, it can also quickly turn into tragedy.

With multiple drownings occurring over the holiday weekend, WNDU spoke with the Co-Founder of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project about how families can stay safe at the beach this summer.

More drownings happen in Lake Michigan than in any other great lake, with more than a dozen so far in 2023.

But drownings can also happen in pools, as a 10-year-old Goshen boy drowned in Nappanee on the Fourth of July.

Officials recommend the Flip, Float, Follow method; flip onto your back, float on the surface, and follow the path of least resistance back to land.

“A drowning survival strategy if you’re ever struggling in water or over your head, you should flip, float, and follow,” said Dave Benjamin, Co-Founder of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. “You flip over on your back and float to keep your head above water, to calm yourself down from the panic of drowning and to conserve your energy, and then follow a safe path out of the water. You have to float to live, float to survive; you have to stay at the surface and keep breathing, and then worry about your exit strategy. Float first, exit strategy second.”

They also say being able to float is much more important than swimming ability when in trouble, and wearing a life jacket can help keep you buoyant.

“Less than 1% of all the drownings that have happened in the Great Lakes since 2010 were wearing a life jacket, and very few that were wearing a life jacket were in very cold water, and the cold water could incapacitate their ability to stay at the surface or stay conscious,” Benjamin said. “Go out and buy yourself a life jacket for yourself as well as your children. Buy extras and bring them to the beach; you don’t have to wear them the entire time, but if you’re unsure of your ability, put them on. If there’s a rescue in progress and you want to help, put it on.”

Other beach safety tips include staying within the lifeguard area, knowing where public rescue equipment is stored, and staying closer to shore in white-cap conditions.

Benjamin also says that families should have adult watchers to ensure child safety, and if you see anyone struggling or beginning to drown, call 911 and alert a lifeguard as soon as possible.

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