Local conference highlights importance of water safety education

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- One man says water safety education in schools could help stop what he calls a drowning epidemic in the Midwest.

“I grew up swimming in Lake Michigan,” said Dave Benjamin, executive director of Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. “I was a strong swimmer.”

Benjamin never expected to be talking about water safety at the State of Lake Michigan Conference Wednesday afternoon, but a drowning accident in 2010 completely changed his life.

“I wiped out, got tossed around and landed on my back,” said Benjamin. “Got the wind knocked out of me and the wave closed in on me, I was choking on water and it was pushing me to the bottom. I was in complete panic.”

Benjamin said it was an article he read that saved his life. It reminded him to float, which he said not many people know to do.

“If you were to ask anyone what to do if your clothes catch on fire, they say, ‘Stop, drop and role,’ or if there is an emergency they will say, ‘Call 911’ but if you ask them what do you do if you are drowning, it's dead silence,” said Benjamin.

For that reason, Benjamin started the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project 7 years ago and has made it his mission to teach children and adults how to survive a drowning.

“In schools today there are fire, tornado, school shooter drills,” said Benjamin. “They have very very little water safety or water survival education so we need to bridge that gap. We need to elevate water safety to these other safety standards.”

Since 2010, Benjamin said statistics show there have been 622 drownings in the Great Lakes, 292 of them in Lake Michigan, with 41 fatalities so far this year. At least three of them happened in Door County. Two kayakers died off the coast of Cave Point in April, while another Kayaker died near Horseshoe Island in August.

Benjamin said it’s those incidents that drive him to push for more water safety presentations in schools.

“Make this as common sense as other safety initiatives,” said Benjamin.

If you would like to learn more about Benjamin’s efforts, visit www.glsrp.org