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SWIMMING STRATEGY: Learn how to keep your head above water!

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

We love our Great Lakes. They are undeniably beautiful with ocean-like characteristics of rolling waves, pristine water, and unlimited gorgeous distant vistas, but they can be very dangerous. The cold water temps, uneven depths, rip tides, limited visibility, and currents can make swimming difficult. The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, a nonprofit organization that tracks drowning on the Great Lakes, reported 117 drowning deaths in 2018; 97 drowning deaths in 2019; 108 drowning deaths in 2020; and 83 drowning deaths in 2021. While the stats are alarming, they aren’t meant to discourage you from #swimming, but to alert you to the dangers so you can be a safer swimmer.


Don’t overestimate your swimming ability. Consider taking a refresher class that also includes water safety/emergency instructions.

  • Never swim alone or beyond your physical capabilities.

  • Always wear a #LifeJacket

  • Keep an eye on the weather and currents. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a surface currents map that is updated four times a day.

  • Don’t drink alcohol or use recreational drugs and swim. Be mindful of prescription drugs that cause drowsiness.

  • Swim in designated areas only

  • Heed flags and signs warning when it’s not safe to swim. A green flag means the water conditions are calm. Yellow signifies there are moderate surf and/or currents. A red flag means the water is closed to the public due to the high surf and/or strong currents.


Drownings happen any time of the day or year, but more drowning occurs in the #summertime when people are heading to the lakes to cool off and have fun on the water. The International Life Saving Federation (ILSF) says more drownings occur in open waters mid to late afternoon, likely due to it being the hottest part of the day, so more people are swimming then. The ILSF says that by late afternoon #beachgoers could be more tired from hours of recreation in the sun, and the addition of beach drinking can make for risky behavior and bad judgment.


Obviously, knowing how to swim is essential, but just as critical is preparing for mother nature. A rip current, for example, can occur while you’re swimming near the sandbar and quickly pull you out into open waters. When that happens, the panic mode can take over and compromise your ability to stay afloat. The same is true for when the winds suddenly pick up, and a big wave comes along. Sure, they can be fun, but they can also knock you over and take you under, disorientating you, causing #panic. And panicked swimming doesn’t help you survive a drowning event.


When a water emergency happens the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Projects says to stay calm and follow the Flip, Float, and Follow the rule. Flip on your back and float. Keep your head above water and conserve energy. Follow – don’t fight the current to access which way it’s flowing. If you can, swim perpendicular to the flow. If you can’t swim, keep floating and try to signal for help.

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