More than 300 people have drowned in the Great Lakes since 2010. 17 of those happened in Lake Michigan this year alone. Water safety advocates are out teaching people about the hidden dangers in any body of water.
The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project puts on free beach safety classes as often as possible. Tonight at the Old Art Building in Leland, a man who almost drowned last year there on the beach shared his near death experience and his desire for people to know the truth.
Jamie Racklyeft had decided to venture out into the water to cool off in the waves. After a while he realized he was out deeper than he intended, and moving back toward shore was next to impossible.
â??I start walking back toward shore and realize as I'm walking, its like I'm not walking-- I'm moon-walking like Michael Jackson,â?? said Racklyeft. â??I'm walking this way but I'm actually moving back out into the lake. I'm in trouble.â??
Drowning is described as quick, silent, and permanent which is different than what many people are led to believe.
â??They've been told drowning looks a certain way and as a result they look for certain clues,â?? said Bob Pratt, executive director of education for Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. â??They look for waving, yelling. In all actuality, neither one of those things is going to happen.â??
â??I tried to take a breath. I'd try to wave, but I'd sink right back down. So I learned quickly not to wave,â?? said Racklyeft. â??I tried to yell, but I realized no one's going to hear me.â??
The waves kept on crashing over Racklyeft, wearing him down to the point of giving up. â??It was just amazing that this could be happening on this beautiful day, in this place I've come my entire life,â?? said Racklyeft. â??How can this be it? How can this be how I'm going to die right now?â??
Pratt says the Great Lakes can be, in some ways, more dangerous than the ocean because the waves are wind generated. â??They tend to be short period waves,â?? Pratt explained. â??The time it takes from one crest to pass to another crest is typically 4, 5, or 6 seconds.â?? In the ocean, that number can be more like fifteen or thirty seconds.
The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project uses a phrase similar to stop-drop-and-roll. They say: flip, float, and follow. When you're in trouble in the water, flip onto your back so you can breathe easier. While youâ??re floating, try to calm down and get your bearings. Donâ??t panic. Follow the current; donâ??t try to fight it.
Pratt says it's unfortunate that many people don't take water safety seriously until it hits close to home. â??It's really hard to get the message out proactively. Most of the time we do things reactively.â??
Most of the volunteers 7&4 News spoke with had personal reasons for spreading water safety awareness like a lost family member or friend.
The class was so packed Thursday night they had to bring in extra chairs.
You can get more information on future classes by visiting the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project's website.