Even a good swimmer can be at risk of drowning. Here's what to do if you're in danger

An organization that tracks drownings in the Great Lakes warns to be extra careful when trying to beat the heat at the beach. Here are some tips to both prevent and deal with water dangers that are particularly heightened in the summer months.

Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project says drownings on rise, Canada Safety Council offers prevention tips

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project says there have been at least six drownings in Lake Erie so far this year. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Flip, float and follow — that's how to survive if you're in danger of drowning, according to an organization that tracks drowning deaths in the Great Lakes.

If you're in an unsafe situation on the water, first flip onto your back, then float to keep your head above water, calm down and conserve energy, and follow a safe path out of the water, said Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

Benjamin said deaths by drowning pick up at this time of year, and there has been a noticeable increase recently.

In 2021, there have been 34 drowning deaths on the Great Lakes, according to the organization's statistics, which were last updated on Monday.

That's a 36 per cent increase over this time last year, though Benjamin said that could reflect improved data collection.

At least 16 drownings occurred inLake Michigan, with at least six on Lake Erie and six on Lake Ontario.

LISTEN: Dave Benjamin joins CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive 

Water safety is a neglected public-health issue, according to Benjamin. While there are fire drills and preparedness measures for natural disasters, people receive very little water-safety education, he said.

"If we look at the annual death statistics, it's likely more school-age children would die drowning than die by fires, tornadoes, school shooters and earthquakes all combined," he told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive on Monday.

People often over-estimate their ability in the water and take more risks, he said.

"People may have a false sense of security that, 'I know how to swim, my kids know how to swim, I don't have to worry about them.' But the statistics say that 66 per cent of all drowning victims are good, strong, confident swimmers."

Taking precautions can save lives

According to the Canada Safety Council, drowning is a leading cause of preventable injury and death in children under 10. The council notes that the Canadian Red Cross says 60 per cent of drownings occur from May to August.

The council also stresses that drowning can happen in seconds, "swiftly and silently," and even at home pools.

It gives these basic precautions to parents and caregivers:

  • Actively supervise children when they are in or around water.
  • For extra protection, especially if you are watching more than one child, have children under five and weak swimmers wear life-jackets in and around water. While boating, adults should also wear life-jackets. 
  • Learn First Aid and CPR.
  • Put kids in swimming lessons. Although formal swimming lessons can't "drown-proof" children, some studies show kids who receive swim training are less likely to drown.
  • Ensure a home pool is fenced high enough to prevent entry.


With files from Afternoon Drive


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