Be “Great Lakes” Safe

Photo of boy on wet, sandy beach

Image credit: Erica Surman.

One of the biggest advantages to summertime in Michigan is spending time in and around the beautiful fresh water lakes. Unlike pools, fresh water bodies cannot be regulated, and conditions such as temperature, water currents, and motorized boats and water crafts must be considered prior to your swim. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported “In 2007, at least 43 percent of all recreational water drownings occurred in natural water settings. Another 9 percent of drownings occurred in boating incidents, for a total of 52 percent. This is almost three times the number of drownings occurring in swimming pools in the same year (19 percent).”

If you or your family participate in recreational boating, it is also important to be familiar with Michigan boating laws to keep you and your passengers safe. “The Official Boating Handbook of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources” is available here; it’s also available as a PDF and as an e-reader download. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the cause of death for nearly 75 percent of all people killed in boating incidents in 2009 was drowning. Of those who drowned, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

Some open water safety tips to consider:

  • Check the weather conditions for the day, and leave the water at any sign of lightning or thunder.
  • Have all family members take an age-appropriate formal swimming class beginning at age four.
  • Be aware of the colored beach flag meanings and follow their warning. Special note: the meaning of each color represented may vary from one beach to another.
  • Swimming is a buddy sport. Pair people up to watch each other, with children always watched by an adult.
  • Bring a cell phone for emergencies, but eyes should be on the swimmers at all times. Drowning can occur both quickly and silently.
  • Swim only in designated swimming areas, and ideally, with a lifeguard present.
  • Diving in open water can be extremely dangerous due to low water visibility. There may be unexpected shallow areas that can lead to severe brain and spinal cord injury.
  • Don’t rely on inflatable water toys or foam pool noodles in place of a Coast Guard-approved life jackets. The Coast Guard requires that all children under age 13 wear a personal flotation device while on a recreational vessel.
  • Anyone with a known seizure condition should be watched closely, and should always wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket, especially on boats.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol. Swimming, boating and supervising children in water requires you to use your best judgment.
  • Look out for signs of a rip current including choppy, foamy or debris-filled water moving in a channel away from shore. If find yourself caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore. Once free of the current, swim diagonally toward shore. A rip current pulls swimmers away from the shore into deeper water at speeds of up to 8 feet per second – faster than an Olympic swimmer.
  • Don’t underestimate shallow water, especially a fast-moving river or creek.
  • Learn CPR! Beaumont offers a Friends & Family course to those over age 12.

– Erica Surman, RN, BSN, Pediatric Trauma Program Manager, Beaumont Health System

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