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Increased Great Lakes drownings in 2021 prompt safety warning

More drownings have been reported in the Great Lakes so far in 2021 than by this time last year, prompting officials to urge swimmers to practice safety.

As of July 2, there were 32 drownings in the Great Lakes, compared to 25 as of July 4, 2020, according to data collected by the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. The nonprofit annually tracks drownings in the Great Lakes and recently issued a warning about a summer spike in deaths.

Of the 2021 drownings, six occurred in Lake Erie and six in Lake Ontario. Another 15 occurred in Lake Michigan, and five drownings were reported in Lake Huron this season.

None of the drownings reported in Lake Erie occurred in New York State.

There were 108 drownings on the Great Lakes in 2020, up from the 97 recorded in 2019. There have been a total of 978 Great Lakes drownings since 2010.

Last year, 53 people drowned in Lake Michigan, setting a record for yearly drowning deaths. More drownings are recorded in Lake Michigan than any of the Great Lakes, accounting for almost half of those reported.

The GLSRP released an explainer video last month to help swimmers understand that dangerous currents occur on the Great Lakes. The group emphasized the “flip, float and follow” drowning survival strategy, which instructs swimmers to prioritize floating and breathing before identifying an exit from the water.

“It is not common sense to know and understand that panic is the first stage of drowning and how to overcome that panic,” Dave Benjamin, executive director of GLSRP, told MLive.com. “It’s a drowning victim’s instinct to fight to survive, which only exhausts them into the vertical drowning posture. Once exhausted and in that drowning posture, the victim will submerge in less than 60 seconds.”

To help prevent drowning, experts recommend making sure someone is designated to watch children at all times while swimming and ensure they wear life jackets. Older children and adults are also encouraged not to swim alone. All water-goers should avoid mixing drugs and alcohol with swimming.

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