Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project co-founder, lifeguard, talks summer drowning prevention

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MECOSTA COUNTY – People may forget others are drowning if they don’t know how to spot it.

Dave Benjamin is the co-founder of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue project. The nonprofit was created when founder Bob Pratt witnessed the Coast Guard search for a drowning victim while out with his son, Benjamin said. He was named co-founder after surviving his own drowning.

When a person is drowning, he says they are vertical in the water with their face just above the water. It may go unnoticed.

“That’s why it’s so important to know what drowning looks like, especially in open bodies of water like Lake Michigan,” Benjamin said. “If there are dangerous waves and currents at the time of the incident, it’s like a moving needle in a moving haystack to be able to find them and pull them out of the water.

If you start to drown he said follow flip, float and follow. Roll over onto your back, float to conserve energy, and find a way out of where you are. He said floating is the most important step.


Because of how often someone drowns, Benjamin argued that people should refer to drownings differently. The The World Health Organization defines drowning like every time someone can’t breathe while immersed in liquid, whether fatal or not.

For example, the media often refer to car accidents as “non-fatal car accidents”, while drownings are “near drownings”, he said.

“It’s like surviving a car crash, you wouldn’t call it a near miss,” he said. “You would call it a car accident, and I was lucky to have survived.”

To help those who are drowning, Benjamin said his organization is working to support legislation requiring lifebuoys on every waterfront to help save lives, he said. Illinois recently signed a law requiring lifebuoys at every waterfront and beach.

“We would like to see this in other states follow in the Great Lakes region because right now it’s kind of hit or miss if a beach has lifesaving equipment or not,” Benjamin said.

During Memorial Day weekend, drownings were up 71% from last year, he said.


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