Nearly fifty people have already drowned in the Great Lakes this year, and there is still about six weeks remaining in the summer swimming season.
These numbers, which have already surpassed the 2011 total for Great Lakes drownings, are astounding and point to an obvious public safety problem.
According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, drownings in Lake Michigan have doubled this year. Read more here. Three children drowned in Lake Ontario last weekend and a 54-year-old man drowned in Lake Superior, bringing the number of Great Lakes drownings in 2012 to 48.
What the heck is going on? Are rip currents becoming more common or intense in the lakes? Are more people swimming in the lakes? Have lifeguard budgets been cut?
I don’t know the answer to those questions but I do know this: Every community around the Great Lakes should be addressing this issue.
Swimmers of all ages need to understand that although these massive bodies of water are called Great LAKES, they are really freshwater SEAS — with fierce currents.
I’ve been caught in rip currents in the Great Lakes and in oceans, and I have to say that I was more terrified by the Great Lakes. Rip currents in the Great Lakes can be subtle and seem to be more unpredictable than those in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans.
I’ve heard sailors say that rough conditions on the Great Lakes are trickier and more menacing than those in many of the world’s oceans.
I don’t want people to be terrified of swimming in the Great Lakes, nor do I want to see government agencies step in with heavy-handed regulations that limit swimming.
The Great Lakes are most appealing to body surfers when the waves are high. But that is also when the lakes are most dangerous.
Most beaches use a flag system to warn of dangerous conditions for swimmers. That system obviously isn’t working (largely because many swimmers ignore the warning flags).
Something more must be done, quickly, to reduce the number of drownings at Great Lakes beaches. This problem — and the resulting body count — is clearly out of control.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issues rip current warnings for numerous Great Lakes beaches. Find them here.