Last weekend on Geneva Lake, there was another tragedy.
A 31-year-old was out tubing with family. A child fell off the tube. A man turned the boat around to pick up the child when another child jumped off the boat into the water with a life jacket on, and started to drift away and struggle.
That’s when the man jumped in to try to get to the child who was struggling. Tragically, he went under the water trying to help the child.
Earlier in July, another man drowned on Geneva Lake. In that case, the 22-year-old was wearing a life jacket while tubing. But when he fell off the tube, somehow the life jacket came off and he ended up going under the water.
While nothing can bring back either of these two men, their deaths can be a reminder to all about the dangers of the water we all love so much and the need for precautions.
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For anyone reading this, make sure that everyone riding on your boat has a properly fitted life jacket. Children are constantly growing; just because something fit them last year doesn’t mean it fits them this year and they shouldn’t be put in an adult life jacket before they are ready. Otherwise, if something happens, they could easily slip out. The law requires everyone 13 and under to wear a life jacket while riding in a personal watercraft. It’s not optional. It’s required.
But life jackets are not just for kids. When you ride on an airplane, flight attendants advise you that in case of an emergency, to attach your own oxygen mask before securing those of others. If someone sees someone struggling in the water they should follow similar advice and put on a life jacket themselves and secure it before jumping to help someone in trouble.
When someone drowns, people often ask whether the victim could swim. But even the best Olympic swimmers can drown when out in rough conditions or put in strenuous situations.
In some areas, municipalities have created life jacket loaner boards where anyone can borrow a life jacket for a day if needed, and return it when they are done. No questions asked. This is a great program and worth exploring in more communities to ensure everyone has a life jacket available when boating and swimming. The familiar Coast Guard-approved, orange over-the-head life jackets can be bought for about $6 at Walmart so it’s not a major investment and one that could possibly save lives.
Going back to the plane example, every time you get on a plane, there is a safety presentation to remind you where the exits are and about the oxygen masks. When is the last time you got on a boat and were reminded by the driver about where your life jacket is and what the safety protocols are? Even those piloting the smallest of watercraft can give a quick safety directive to their passengers before heading out onto the water.
On Lake Michigan there have also been a number of drownings this summer. Again life jacket boards at local beaches could be a good option for people wanting to play in the waves. And further education is also needed. Life guards, such as those who patrol North Beach in Racine, are a welcome asset. But education is the first line of defense. That is why the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project is pushing education of “Flip, float, follow”: Flip on your back and float to conserve your energy, rather than fight the current. And when you are able, follow the current into shore at an angle. Don’t fight the current because it’s a losing battle.
The lakes in southeastern Wisconsin are beautiful and we are lucky to have these resources available for our enjoyment. But there is a danger that comes with them and safety needs to be at the forefront.