beach flying warning flagsThe Coastal Research Group’s studies on awareness of rip tides is especially timely given the recent spate of drownings on the Great Lakes. Photo by Michael Spadoni/Pexels

Coastal researcher says drownings demonstrate need for beach safety awareness

A spate of recent drownings in the Great Lakes and elsewhere in Canada has put the spotlight on beach safety, says University of Windsor researcher Chris Houser.

Dr. Houser, dean of the Faculty of Science, heads the Coastal Research Group. Its members study the physical and social dimensions of the drowning hazard posed by rip currents in field sites along the Great Lakes, in the Maritimes, and in Costa Rica.

Beachgoers often aren’t aware that rip currents exist in the Great Lakes, Houser says. His team’s research has shown that even when warning signs are posted, beachgoers often fail to notice them, or misinterpret the signs.

“Beach safety cannot be achieved through passive means,” Houser said. “It requires accurate and dynamic warnings as well as an investment in lifesaving technology and lifeguards.”

To date in 2022, there have been 47 confirmed drownings and 12 rescues on the Great Lakes, according to statistics compiled by the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. According to the water-safety advocacy group that trains lifeguards and first responders on open-water rescues, there have been 1,093 confirmed drownings in the Great Lakes since 2010.

On June 29, a Burlington man drowned in Lake Huron. On June 27, a 38-year-old man drowned in Lake Michigan while trying to rescue a teen in distress at Indiana Dunes National Park. On June 20, a migrant farm worker from Guatemala drowned in Lake Erie near Leamington while swimming in the water with friends. These drownings are among 13 on the Great Lakes last month alone.

In a recent article in The Conversation, Houser and Alex Smith, a post-doctoral fellow in the Coastal Research Group, predict a higher number of drownings this summer as people travel more to catch up on lost experiences during the pandemic.

“This so-called ‘revenge travel’ has the potential to raise the number of drownings, as more people choose to enter the water, even when the conditions aren’t ideal,” they write.

—Sarah Sacheli