SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. — As the last unofficial weekend of summer comes to a close, a nonprofit organization tracking Great Lakes drowning deaths said 2020 was still the deadliest on Lake Michigan.
"2020 was the deadliest year on Lake Michigan with 56 total Lake Michigan drownings," said Dave Benjamin, co-founder of Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.
Lake Michigan saw one drowning death over Labor Day weekend, marking a total of 35 deaths this year alone, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.
As for the Great Lakes?
"So far in 2021, there have been 77 Great Lakes drownings," Benjamin said.
The record for Great Lakes drownings was back in 2018 with 117 deaths.
While these numbers are not the highest ever seen, the year isn't over just yet. The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project track the drownings for a full calendar year.
Benjamin said many of the deaths could have been prevented.
"The Michigan Department of Natural Resources does not approve of having lifeguards on its beaches," Benjamin said. "They use a flag system. The flag system is a tool for lifeguards to use not a replacement for lifeguards. The flag system has been failing swimmers, you know, for multiple years now."
While Benjamin believes lifeguards are the solution, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is looking at other options.
They currently use flags to warn beachgoers and had a recent discussion of potentially fining people $500 for swimming when the red flags are out.
That topic was brought up in an August meeting would have gone into effect immediately.
"The Department of Natural Resources decided to table the issue to its September meeting," Benjamin said. "Unfortunately, though, since August 12th, there have been two Lake Michigan drownings at Michigan State Parks where this red flag swim ban enforcement could possibly save lives."
The Great Lakes Rescue Project said they will continue to push for guards. While the fine may help, there has to be enough people to enforce it.
Benjamin said if they staff up, they might as well staff lifeguards.
"We know what the problem is," Benjamin said. "We know what the solution is. It's time to implement the solution and be done with us, because, you know, it's just, the standard of care, the duty to protect the public that's coming."