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Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project teaches water safety at Muskegon conference

There have been 43 drownings on Lake Michigan so far in 2022.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — People who live in our lakeshore cities have a lot more knowledge on water safety after a Tuesday night presentation in Muskegon.

The Great Lakes Beach Association conference began Monday, and on Tuesday, attendees got to hear from the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, which encouraged taking the lessons learned back to each person's hometown.

"Four out of the last five years, we've had over 100 fatal drownings on the five Great Lakes," says Bobby Pratt, education director for the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. "About 40 to 50% of those happen in Lake Michigan."

That includes 43 in Lake Michigan in 2022.

Pratt hopes to help change that, and it all starts in the classroom.

"We do fire drills in schools, lockdown drills in schools, tornado drills in schools," he says. "Drowning will kill more people than fire, lightning, tornados and school shooters combined."

On Tuesday, however, it was the adults' turn to be educated.

Pratt used clips from a couple TV shows to illustrate how drowning is portrayed in popular media. He followed it with a clip of a real drowning. The clip showed no flailing or splashing, which most are taught is the way to spot someone in distress.

Pratt believes the current green, yellow and red flag system used at most Michigan beaches doesn't work.

"We need rescue equipment on our beaches," says Pratt. "Throw rings and signage, accurate signage."

For Pratt, the most important mission is bringing lifeguards to every beach. He says it's frustrating to see money spent by the state to bring tourists to our beaches, but not to keep them safe when they get here.

"We spend $30 million on the Pure Michigan tourism campaign," says Pratt. "We would like to see some funding for water safety measures to lower the number of drownings we have on the Great Lakes."

Pratt also touched on life jackets significantly reducing the risk of drowning. He says out of 1,148 fatal drownings on the Great Lakes since 2010, only 14 have been people who were wearing a life jacket.

The Great Lakes Beach Association conference continues on Wednesday.


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