MedWatch: Staying Safe In The Water

With summer weather finally here, people are looking for relief and for many that means the beach.

But, this season many will see something new at their favorite spots — life rings and instructions about how to use them.

It’s all because of a huge team effort, grants and donations, to help save lives on the water. 

"Drowning is an epidemic in the Great Lakes, almost 400 people have drown since 2010."

Jamie Racklyeft was almost one of them.

A rip current in Lake Michigan nearly swallowed him up.

"I just kept getting into this rhythm of getting knocked down by a wave, swimming down to the bottom, swimming back up, taking a breath, trying to yell and then getting knocked down by the next one. And pretty soon I was just exhausted and realized I wasn’t going to get out of this, this is how I was going to die."

Thankfully, two people heard his cries for help.

"They commandeered a kayak form a local cottage and risked their own lives, so they got to me just in time. I mean literally, if it would have been five seconds later, I would have gone under and they wouldn’t have found me until the next day, so I am lucky and that’s why I’m talking about it today."

Jamie is now an advocate for water safety and wants to share what he knows.

"Follow the current until you can escape and follow the safest path back to shore. So flip, float and flow is something we want to be as famous as stop, drop and roll. In schools these days, there’s tornado drills and fire drills, even earthquake drills, and there’s no water safety curriculum. And yet drowning will claim the lives of more kids than all of those things combined."

That is why Munson Medical Center is part of a new coalition called the Northwest Michigan Water Safety Network.

"At our first meeting we had 25 or 28 in the room, and not one of us did the exact same things. We had rescue people there, we had EMS there, we had the hospital, we had the YMCA, we had the health department, we had parks and rec, we had TCAPS, Red Cross, everybody did something different," says Jennifer Ritter.

But they all have the same goal. To save lives on the water.

"Put together 39 rescue stations, and those 39 stations went up before Memorial Day this year and are throughout the area. They have information on them, so what drowning looks like, how to throw a life ring."

Jennifer Ritter is the injury prevention coordinator with Munson Medical Center.

She encourages beach goers to practice using the life rings.

"If it’s not something you’ve done it’s uncomfortable, and I want people to be familiar with how to do that, and I don’t want people to feel awkward if they actually have to go help somebody. Practice, they’re out there, please practice."

And the organization hopes to do more in the future.

"Our goal is now to secure another grant so we can get more stations and continue this. We still have inland lakes and other places that we need to address and do more community workshops."

And in the meantime, Jamie is back in the water, and celebrates the anniversary of his near-death experience with a trip to the beach — in his life jacket.

"There were a lot of people there and I could actually see some rip currents forming, I paddled around casually warning people “come this way” or “stay closer to shore,” so I felt a bit more of a protector than a victim at least. So I’m no lifesaver, but I’m happy to spread the word and let people know a little bit more about this."

Categories: MedWatch

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