Here's a statistic that's hard to comprehend: Since 2010 there have been 446 fatal drownings in the Great Lakes. Several of those have been right here in West Michigan.
It's why a number of experts gathered in Grand Haven Friday. Although it will likely be several more weeks before the water in Lake Michigan is warm enough for most swimmers, water safety experts say now is the time to start talking about staying safe in the water.
Participants at the Great Lakes Water Safety Conference hope to end drownings. Knowing how to swim is important, but they says there's much more to water safety. Presenter Vicki Cech says parents play a big role in spreading the message of staying safe in and around bodies of water, "to help teach kids and make them aware of the dangers of the lake. And we do not want to scare them, we want them to be aware of what you need to do."
You may have seen the photo of Cech's son on Grand Haven's pier. Andy Fox drowned here in 2003.
"When Andy drowned, we did not have any life rings on the pier or the beach," Cech said.
Now, there are 15 on the pier and five on the beach. There are rip current warnings, cameras, and emergency call boxes, too, in part because one month after her son drowned, Cech started pushing for the items and for water safety education programs in her community.
"We are very proud of what it has become," said Cech.
Cech's also part of a group organizing the 13th annual beach survival challenge. The event raises awareness of water safety and teaches participants how to make a water rescue if called on to do so.
One quick tip could save a life, said Dave Benjamin with the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project: "If anyone ever gets in trouble in water over their head, just flip, float, and follow."
Flip to your back, and float in an effort to regain normal breathing, "and then once the panic starts to alleviate, assess what is the safest way out of the water."
This year, the beach survival challenge takes place on June 18.