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Late summer, early fall can be a dangerous time on Great Lakes for boaters, swimmers

Search and Rescue missions in the Great Lakes are up from last year by nearly 300.
U.S. Coast Guard

The pandemic, high water levels, and warm temperatures could mean more drownings on the Great Lakes. 

There have been 58 reported drownings so far this year, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. 32 of those have occurred in Lake Michigan.

Dave Benjamin is Executive Director of Public Relations and Project Management of GLSRP. He says August to mid-September can be an especially deadly time on the Great Lakes.

“This is when we see the most people going into the water and they're pushing their limits, saying ‘I gotta get my swim time in now, because it’s going to be fall and winter soon and we’re going to be indoors or out of the water,’” says Benjamin.

Warmer weather and water temperatures can also mean more people are staying in the water longer, which can lead to more accidents. Benjamin says the current high water levels in the Great Lakes also makes the lakes more dangerous.

“When we have waves and dangerous currents, these currents can be stronger because it’s a deeper swell,” he says. “More water, more hazard.” 

Meanwhile, search and rescue operations on the Great Lakes are up from last year. The U.S. Coast Guard says as of August 13, there have been 2,093 SAR missions performed on the lakes this season, which is about 280 cases higher than last year. 

One of the reasons those numbers are higher is because boating has become a very popular recreation activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Boat sales are at a record high pace,” says Karl Willis, the Search and Rescue Specialist for the Ninth Coast Guard District based in Cleveland. “Sales of kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, recreational paddle craft like that are at a record-high pace. So there are more people out on the water than ever before.” 

The U.S.C.G. encourages people to wear a reflective orange life jacket, know the weather, and tell others your plans before heading out on the water.

Dan Wanschura is the Host and Executive Producer of Points North.