Head Of Safety Group Says Great Lakes Drownings Are Preventable

Jul 31, 2019

Lake Michigan at Warren Dunes State Park - file photo
Credit Shawno Cleary / The Associated Press

Jamie Racklyeft says the three and four foot waves on Lake Michigan “looked like fun.” The Executive Director of the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium says he had not heard of rip currents until the day he had to be rescued. Now Rackleyft says he wants others to know the dangers on the Great Lakes.


The number of drownings in the Great Lakes this year is on pace to break last year’s record. The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project reports 51 people have drowned in the lakes so far in 2019. 27 of those have been in Lake Michigan, compared to 15 at this time last year. Racklyeft says the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium’s number one recommendation is to wear a life jacket. “Everyone thinks drowning happens to someone else.” 

"Everyone thinks drowning happens to someone else."

Racklyeft says a swimmer who gets in trouble needs to remember to “flip, float and follow.” That means flip on your back, and float to conserve energy. He says yell for help early because the closer you get to drowning, the harder it is to yell. Racklyeft says then follow the path of least resistance back to shore. He adds it’s important not to fight against the force of a Great Lakes rip current.

Extended Interview in WMUK's WestSouthwest Podcast

"All of them are preventable with knowing how to swim and knowing some basic things about how to avoid, escape and safely save others."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drowning is the fifth leading cause of “unintentional injury death” in the United States. Racklyeft says that while schools have drills for fire, active shooters and even earthquakes, there is no regular training for water safety. Racklyeft says there are more than 100 drownings on average on the Great Lakes every year, “and all of them are preventable with knowing how to swim and knowing some basic things about how to avoid, escape and safely save others.”