The Great Lakes are not as large as the oceans, but Bridge reporter Jim Malewitz says they are large bodies of water and hazards like rip currents can make them very dangerous, even deadly.
Malewitz recently wrote on the dangers of the Great Lakes, how safety advocates are trying to educate the public and influence policy, and the lack of lifeguards on Great Lakes beaches in Michigan.
Finding statistics on drownings in the Great Lakes is difficult. Malewitz says there is not a government source for those numbers. But the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project attempts to compile numbers by monitoring media and police reports. Bob Pratt, one of the two people who runs the project says there have been at least 640 drownings on the Great Lakes since 2010. But Pratt says it’s possible the number is higher.
Despite what is called a “vastly neglected area of public health,” it’s rare to find a lifeguard on a Great Lakes beach in Michigan. New Buffalo is an exception, there was a backlash when the city budget did not include money for lifeguards. Malewitz says after a very heated public meeting, the city council decided to stay the course for now, and keep lifeguards on New Buffalo beaches.
Cities like Grand Haven and South Haven have installed other safety upgrades. Those include life rings. Malewitz says some of those rings are part of high tech response systems that set off an alarm and activate cameras. But Malewitz says safety advocates maintain that lifeguards are essential because drowning can happen quickly.