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Great Lakes drownings increase in 2021

July 29, 2019: Maumee River as seen from The Docks in downtown Toledo. (WNWO)
July 29, 2019: Maumee River as seen from The Docks in downtown Toledo. (WNWO)
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As the summer fun and heat continues, experts are reminding swimmers and boaters to stay alert on the water.

Nonprofit group Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project is reporting 34 drownings on the Great Lakes so far this year. Six of those were in Lake Erie.

During the same time from last year, there were 25.

"Weather is very unpredictable and there are times when things don't go according to plan," said Jhonny Benitez, U.S. Coast Guard petty officer 3rd class.

The first thing boaters should do is to check weather and to avoid waters when the weather isn't safe.

Having a plan is the next step.

"You can tell a family member, any kind of loved one or anyone else really where you're going, how long you're going to be out there, when you're going to be back and just make sure that you have the proper equipment on board."

Benitez also encourages anyone heading out on a boat to have enough fuel on board. But life jackets are even more important.

"I know we all talk about life vests — personal floatation devices — it's not acceptable to have them under the seat. Everyone should have them on. If we're talking safety, they should be on all the time," said Battalion Chief Matthew Brixey with the Toledo Fire & Rescue Department.

It's not just kids who should be wearing life vests. Brixey encourages adults to wear them too.

"Water's the great equalizer for all of us. We don't have gills and we can't breathe underwater. The first thing that happens to a human being when they hit the water, especially when it's cold, we want to take that deep breath. And without a life vest on, we just know that's the thing that's going to save you.

Across all drownings, TFRD tends to see more men drowning than women. They also say alcohol is a huge factor in many of the drownings they respond to.

Boaters can download the U.S. Coast Guard app that will connect you to the nearest station if you need help on the water.

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