Great Lakes swimmers ignoring warnings to stay out of the water, report says

A recent report from the University of Windsor says safety warnings are going unheeded, leading to an increase of drowning deaths in the Great Lakes.

73 people have drowned in the Great Lakes this year

A recent report from the University of Windsor's dean of science says safety warning are going unheeded, leading to an increase of drowning deaths in the Great Lakes. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Beach-goers tend to ignore warnings which ask people not to swim for safety purposes, according to a recent report from the University of Windsor's dean of science.

"If somebody goes to the beach and they see others in the water, or they've been to the beach on a similar day and they didn't drown, [they believe] the forecast must be wrong," said Christopher Houser.

The Great Lakes have seen a significant rise in drowning deaths from recent years. In 2017, the Lakes took the lives of 88 people, according to statistics from the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

This Ontario beach was hit with a red flag due to high bacteria levels in the water, but beaches along the Great Lakes tend to be closed due to rip currents and dangerous surfing conditions. (Barry Smith/CBC)

This year has already seen 73 drowning deaths — and there's still four months until the end of the year. Lake Erie's drowning death toll of 27 is the highest of any other lake since the start of the year.

"As conditions in terms of climate start to warm and people go to the beach more often, you're going to start to see an increase in the number of drownings," Houser said.

The report, released Wednesday, suggests people tend to make decisions about when and where to swim based on convenience and how access to the beach is managed.

Rather than looking for the safest areas to swim and beaches with lifeguards, people tend to assume that the spot they accessed the beach must be the safest.

"Tourists are particularly at risk when they visit unfamiliar beaches and assume that a beach must be safe if they built a hotel there," said Houser.

He added the only solution is to have an on-site lifeguard stop people from entering the water in the first place.


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