LAKE ERIE – If you plan to hit the water this summer in a boat or kayak, officials with the U.S. Coast Guard say preparation beforehand could save your life.
Our news partner Erie News Now spoke with officials from the Coast Guard on Tuesday following a report that outlined more people have drowned in the Great Lakes this year compared to this time last year.
Specifically, of the 32 drownings in 2021, six have been in Lake Erie.
Gwendolyn Olsen from the U.S. Coast Guard said in recent years, we’ve had quite a few incidents in Erie, from new boaters and swimmers to very experienced boaters and swimmers.
“People have fallen in the water and we have had a death over the Spring,” Olsen said.
She says the key to prevention is to wear a life jacket. Explaining that everyone must have a life jacket in the water and kids under 12 years old must always be wearing their life jacket. She also recommended getting a life vest for your pets.
“If you’re wearing a life jacket, you’re found right away,” Olsen furthered.
Olsen also says to have a signal at night, have a sound-producing device like a whistle, check the weather, and always have a plan.
“Let somebody know what you’re planning on doing, where you go, and how long you plan to be out,” Olsen said.
If you find yourself in a dangerous situation she says to signal for help and act quickly.
Olsen says something important that a lot of people don’t think about is how any time your body is fuller submerged in the water, it has a hard time obtaining body heat in any water below 77 degrees, meaning even on hot summer days.
“Even in the water temperature right now, you can lose body heat which can cause hypothermia,” Olsen said.
Besides losing body heat in the water, you also lose energy from staying afloat so she recommends staying in place rather than trying to swim toward something in the distance if you are in danger.
“What looks close can actually be a lot farther and you can get tired, especially if you’re not wearing a life jacket,” Olsen said. “You’re expending that energy to stay afloat.”
If you are on a boat, kayak or any type of water vessel, stay close to it. It not only conserves energy but it’s a larger identified object to be able to find.
“Even if the vessel is sunk, staying near that area you are more likely to be found because that is what’s known as the last known position,” Olsen said.
The U.S. Coast Guard also has an app where you report where you are going out on the water and what time you plan to return. You also provide an emergency contact for if something were to happen.