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How do you prevent drowning? Knowing the signs

Photo// Katlin Connin WSBT 22

Thousands of people flock to the beaches in St. Joseph for fun and relaxation. But those waters can also pose a danger.

A lot of people drown in the Great Lakes, especially in Lake Michigan.

There have been more than 450 drownings in the past six years. A quarter of those were right here in the southern half of Lake Michigan.

One reason for those high numbers-- people just don't know what drowning looks like.

Bob Pratt helps run the Great Lakes Surf and Rescue project.

"If you watch television shows like Bay Watch or you see Life of Pi in the movies they will portray drowning as this big long loud visual affair," said Pratt.

"In real life in reality when someone's drowning it happens in an instant it happens in seconds," said Lifeguard, Sean Parpart.

A drowning swimmer will have their head back, hair in their face and mouth at water level.

"We really wish drowning was like Hollywood portrayed it because if there was waving and yelling parents and caregivers would be able to recognize it much sooner and unfortunately when they're looking for that waving and yelling and the child submerges below the surface of the water it ends up in a tragedy," Pratt said.

Wednesday he trained lifeguards on how best to do their jobs. He says there are some really simple tips to prevent drowning.

"If you can keep yourself afloat you can keep yourself alive," Pratt said.

The best way to do that is with a life jacket. But, if you don't have a personal flotation device remember these three words: Flip, Float, Follow.

"If you're struggling in the water and can't make any forward progress look up. Look up put your shoulders back roll over on your back and take a deep breath," said Pratt. "That allows them to breathe whenever they want to, it allows them to hopefully calm down and control that panic because panic is one of the worst aspects of the drowning situation."

After that you can follow the shore until it's safe to swim in.

But, if you see someone drowning don't go in after them unless you have training and equipment.

"A lot of times we lose would be rescuers when they go out and make a rescue and they may actually save the person and then become the victim themselves," Pratt said.

Pratt says drowning is the number one accidental killer of kids under four.

You can teach babies as young as four months how to flip, float and follow.

But, if your child can't swim well put them in a life jacket. It's a simple step that could save their life.

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