Lake Michigan

Experts Offer Water Safety Tips After String of Tragic Incidents

As area residents and visitors prepare to take to the waters of the Chicago area in the coming days, a local group is advising people to remain cautious due to a variety of potential threats and challenges on waterways.

Those threats have been on display this week as two different boating accidents have resulted in the deaths of at least three people. On Wednesday a boat crashed on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, with two people dying and two more being reported missing after the boat sank.

On Friday morning, two men had a boat tied to a dock on the Chicago River near Goose Island. When the boat floated away, a man tried to jump into the water to save it, but ended up sinking under the surface and was pronounced dead later Friday morning.

In addition to boating safety, the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project is also preaching caution when it comes to swimming in Lake Michigan, as water temperatures are below normal and lake depths are the deepest ever recorded in the month of June.

“Take your time and ease your way in,” Dave Benjamin said. “Prolonged exposure over your head (in cold waters) can incapacitate your swimming ability.”

Despite the efforts of groups to preach water safety, Benjamin said that residents often aren’t aware of just how dangerous swimming in chilly water can be, as it can trigger cold water shock and a person’s gag reflex, making them susceptible to drowning.

The group also is encouraging residents to be sure they know what drowning looks like. Most water-goers would assume that victims can scream for help, but the reality is much quieter, as swimmers can tilt their head back, making pawing motions at the water, and are often unable to yell for help.

If you find yourself in a bad situation on the water, experts offer a three-word tip: Flip, Float, and Follow. 

Swimmers are encouraged to flip over onto their backs if they are suddenly submerged. After that, swimmers should try to float, not only to keep their heads above water but to help conserve energy and avoid panic. 

After beginning to float, swimmers should ascertain which way the current is flowing. Once that's determined, swimmers can follow the current, either swimming perpendicular to it or continuing to float while trying to signal for help. 

Fortunately for those looking to enjoy the water, wearing a life jacket can be a great way to remain safe, and residents are also encouraged to learn about water safety tips on the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project and the City of Chicago website before venturing onto Lake Michigan or the Chicago River as the holiday approaches.

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