5 water safety tips from the Grand Traverse Bay YMCA

Are you swimming safely?

The water surrounding the Northern Michigan communities is beautiful and full of opportunities for swimming, boating, tubing, and more.

And as much as the water is admired, it should be equally respected.

Drowning claims the lives of nearly 800 people a year and is the second leading cause of death in kids under age 15.

Losing a loved one to the water is devastating, and there are many non-profits nationwide dedicated to educating people on the dangers of drowning and how to prevent it, including the YMCA.

Here are five important lessons the YMCA says every person should know:

1. Know your surroundings.

“There is a huge difference between swimming in indoor water and swimming in open water,” says Central YMCA Aquatics Director, Tony Venticinque.

The biggest factors Venticinque says to watch for in open water are:

  • Depth of water
  • Temperature of water
  • Currents
  • Debris (like seaweed, logs, etc.) that could impede your ability to swim properly

2. Swim in a designated swimming area.

“These are areas that have already been checked for safety and are considered to have appropriate swimming conditions,” says West YMCA Aquatics Director, Erin Parsons.

3. Always wear a life jacket in open water.

Even if you know how to swim and are confident in the water, experts agree you need to wear a life jacket when boating, paddle boarding, engaging in water sports, or even just swimming off a boat in the middle of a lake.

As Venticinque describes, “you could hop off the boat to go for a swim, the wind pushes the boat, and now you’ve gone from swimming right next to the boat to the boat having floated away, and you’re left in open water with no life preserver or a way back to shore.”

Parsons adds, “even if you’re a strong swimmer if you’re knocked unconscious, it won’t matter. You need to be wearing a lifejacket when you’re out on the lake. Conditions can get unpredictable in open water at any second.”

4. Drowning doesn’t look like what you see in the movies.

“You typically won’t see any splashing or hear any yelling,” Parsons says, “It’s very quiet.”

Venticinque goes on to describe what drowning looks like, “It usually starts when they get a mouthful of water and suddenly—in an instant—they’re in trouble. Their head will be tilted backward trying to get air, and their hands will start doing a climbing motion rather than a swimming motion. It’s a pure panic looking for any way possible to get above the water.”

5. Reach or throw, but do not go.

“Unless you’re trained and a very strong swimmer, going after somebody in trouble is a good way to put two people in trouble,” Venticinque says.

Instead, the YMCA teaches to “reach, throw, do not go.”

This means reaching something, like a branch or a pool noodle, to someone in trouble; throwing something, like a rescue ring, a rope, or even a cooler that floats, to someone in trouble, but never getting in to try to pull them to safety.

“If you go in after someone in trouble, they want to be on top of the water, and they’ll grab whatever they can to pull themselves up—which unfortunately means pulling you under,” Venticinque explains.

Parsons adds, “When someone is fighting for their life in the water, they become incredibly strong—so even when you think you’re strong enough to bring them ashore or get them to safety—they’re panicking, they’re strong, and more likely than a rescue is a double drowning.”

To learn more about water safety, check out these UpNorth Family segments with the YMCA:

Visit www.gtbayymca.org to learn more about water safety, swimming lessons, and available programs.