Group highlights dangers of swimming in Lake Michigan

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Group Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project is reminding families about the dangers of swimming in Lake Michigan as the weather warms up.

Splashing around on a hot summer day, or a trip to the beach for a child is a summer highlight. B ut for parents, these trips can also be fraugt with worry.

"Especially with them being so little, and then wanting to play, it can get tough," said Hanane Hanafi, mother of three. "But I think they know. I think it's just communicating with them and having them understand what's safe, what's not."

And the CDC says drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children 1 to 4 years old.

But it's also the fifth leading cause of death overall, and Lake Michigan is especially perilous. Last year, 53 people drowned in Lake Michigan, the deadliest year for drownings in at least a decade.

RELATED: 53 people have drowned in Lake Michigan in 2020, setting new record

Water safety experts are highlighting the dangers of the beautiful but perilous body of water can hold.

Last year much was discussed about whether the beaches being closed may have actually contributed to having more drownings than usual.

With life nearly back to normal and people flocking back to the shore, there are concerns those numbers could go even higher.

"It's like the entire world took a gap year," said Dave Benjamin of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. "We took a gap year from our swimming lessons."

Always swimming near a lifeguard and only swimming during lifeguarded hours are the top recommendations to stay safe. But knowing the specific characteristics of the beach you're going to is also vital.

If the water drop off is very fast, you can get caught in deeper waters unexpectedly putting you at risk. Chicago Park District officials recommend asking the lifeguard on duty those kinds of questions.

And if you do see someone who appears to be in distress and there are no lifeguards around, there are safe ways to help.

"It's very important to take something that floats in this circumstance, because without that device you may also become a victim," said Adam Bueling, Chicago Park District. "By extending that floating object to a person, if that person panics, climbs over that object, tries to get to you, you can push away and they still have that floating object and you are protecting yourself."

In addition, these are the four Lake Michigan Water Safety Tips experts want you to know.

-Always swim near a lifeguard
-Swim during lifeguarded hours
-Know the signs of drowning
-Know the Flip, Float and Follow drowning survival strategy.

Ten people have died as a result of drowning in Lake Michigan so far this year. The latest just Wednesday night, after a man fell into the water near Jackson Park.

And remember, it's not just the lake that's dangerous. Something as harmless looking as a backyard kiddie pool can be trouble. Doctor say unattended children can drown in as little as an inch of water.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.