More than 100 drownings recorded in the Great Lakes in 2022

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

Two drownings in Lake Michigan last weekend have pushed the total number of drownings in the Great Lakes this year to 101, the same number as all of 2021.

According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, 43 of the 101 drownings occurred in Lake Michigan. Twelve of the 43 Lake Michigan drownings were off the shores of Michigan.

All told, more than 1,100 people have drowned in the Great Lakes since 2010 when the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project started keeping track. Last year saw 101 Great Lakes drownings total, with 46 occurring in Lake Michigan. Fifty-six people drowned in Lake Michigan in 2020, making it the lake's deadliest year on record, the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project reported.

"We see a lot more people who never intended to be in the water who end up in the water," said Bob Pratt, co-founder and executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. "In the fall and in winter, we tend to see people who are accidentally swept off piers, for example."

Rip currents, structural currents and large waves are all major safety concerns in the Great Lakes and can pose a threat to even the most experienced swimmers, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Lake Michigan is the deadliest of the Great Lakes with more than twice the number of drownings than Lake Ontario, the next most dangerous. However, experts said the large number of lakeside tourism destinations is a factor.

Last weekend's drownings both involved water sports — kayaking and kite surfing — and water temperature also likely played a role, Pratt said.

In this Aug. 5, 2018 file photo, beachgoers help Grand Haven Department of Public Safety officers form human chains to search for missing people in Lake Michigan at Grand Haven State Park in Grand Haven. More drownings have been reported in the Great Lakes so far in 2021 than by this time last year, prompting officials to urge swimmers to practice water safety measures. As of July 2, there were 32 drownings in the Great Lakes, compared to 25 as of July 4, 2020, according to data collected by the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

Drownings are most common in the summer but do continue during the winter when water temperatures drop, he said.

Earlier this summer experts predicted that Great Lakes drownings would remain high. Low public awareness of drownings, a lack of lifeguards and the speed with which rip currents can pull people offshore are all contributing factors.

Rip currents form when waves crash onto the shore, trapping water between breaking waves and beaches, according to the National Weather Service. This water moves back out to the lake in a narrow, fast stream forming a rip current.

"The (Great) Lakes can be deadly anytime, they're more like inland seas," Pratt said. "There are waves, there's wind, there's dangerous currents."

The best defense against drownings is to hire more lifeguards and improve water safety education, Pratt said.

"There's really very, very little water safety education in our schools," he said. "So we believe there needs to be a robust public education program."