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Posted on Thu, May 23, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Michigan has 11,000 inland lakes - and its residents need to be able to swim

By Rich Kinsey

I have spent most every summer of my life on or near a lake. I love the water, but I have always had a very deep respect for it as well. It is with that respect I offer advice and safety tips.

First and foremost — learn to swim! Two-thirds of our planet is covered by water. In Michigan we have 11,000 inland lakes, more shoreline beaches than any other state in the continental United States, and our two “pleasant peninsulas” are surrounded by the Great Lakes.

It is said that you can not travel five miles in a straight-line in Michigan without running into a body of water. Therefore even it you are careful, chances are at some point in your life you will fall into the water— so learn to swim. Parents, teach your children how to swim early in their lives.

Zukey Lake.JPG

Zukey Lake, pictured here, is one of the many bodies of water Michigan offers residents to enjoy during the warm summer months.

File photo

It's never too late in life to learn and it's incredible how early children can be taught to swim. The American Red Cross, the YMCA, Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation and other health clubs and private facilities provide swimming lessons for the young and old alike. If you are embarrassed by your age, private lessons can be procured, but please, I can't say it enough, learn to swim.

Whether you can swim or not, Personal Flotation Devices, or PFDs, save lives. PFDs or life jackets, buoyancy vest and life preservers are a must-have around the water. Whether we are talking about pools, ponds, lakes, rivers, beaches or oceans PFDs should be available — especially when children are around the water or when boating, canoeing, sailing, fishing or kayaking take us away from shore.

According to the United States Coast Guard, 90 percent of those who drown, in boating and water accidents, would have survived if they had been wearing a PFD. PFD’s assist those who can not swim to keep their head above the water. For those who can swim PFD’s provide precious time for a person to be rescued.

My youngest son, who is a mariner and currently “up-bound” on Lake Huron on a 770-foot iron ore carrier, taught me the rule of thumb for surviving a fall into cold water. Great Lakes mariners call it the “1-10-1 Rule” which he told me meant: “You have one minute to control your breathing, 10 minutes that your body can actually function and swim and one hour to survive if you are supported by a PFD.”

Not to be outdone, I gave my son some interesting and perhaps lifesaving advice for his vocation. I learned in a death investigation seminar that clothing and autopsy evidence of recovered drown sailors indicated almost half of them fell or were swept overboard while trying to urinate “over the rail.”

In my own experience, I recall two individuals who drown in the Huron River after sliding down slick riverbanks and one who fell off the third floor roof of a building on North Main Street who appeared to have died attending the same call of nature. Using a bathroom — or for those nautically inclined “the head” — is a much safer and socially acceptable alternative

Boating season is just getting underway so it is a good time to review some of the laws about PFD’s. It also is a good time to remember that this is a dangerous time of the year to fall overboard because although the air temperatures are in the 70s or soon, the 80s, water temperatures are in the 50s. Water robs a human body of heat up to 32 times faster than the air, therefore falling overboard, even in an inland lake right now, can be life-threatening even for strong swimmers.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Coast Guard Approved PFDs come in four types.

A Type I PFD provides the most protection and is an off-shore life jacket. These are the best and can turn and maintain most unconscious victims faces out of the water even in choppy water.

Type II is a near-shore buoyancy vest, which can turn and hold some unconscious person’s faces out of the water. These are the common orange “horse collar” life jackets.

Type III PFD’s are floatation aids and are designed for conscious persons. These also include most ski vests.

Type IV PFD’s are “throwables”, such as life-rings or buoyant seat cushions. Approved and allowable PFD’s do not include plastic toys like water wings, pool noodles or inner tubes.

According to the DNR If you are on a boat less than 16 feet long, you must have a Type I, II, III or IV U.S. Coast Guard Approved PFD for every person on board the vessel. For boats larger than 16 feet long — excluding canoes — each person on board must have a Type I, II or III PFD available and one extra Type IV PFD or throwable for rescue. Children less than 6 years old must be wearing a Type I or II PFD if riding on the open deck of a boat.

From personal experience with small children on boats, I suggest a PFD with the easy-to-grab handle. This handle on the life jacket makes your child really easy to scoop out of the water when —not if— they fall in and the crotch strap keeps them in the life jacket as you are fishing them out. Careful mom and dad, this can become a fun “game” for toddlers who like the water and will jump in on purpose … like my sons.

Michigan affords us some great opportunities in our water wonderland, so please be safe and wear PFD’s on the water — especially if you can't swim.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for


Milton Shift

Fri, May 24, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

Good article! There is one more topic that needs to be covered though: undertow currents. Even if a beach or river looks peaceful and nonthreatening, you can wade into it and suddenly find yourself sucked underwater, carried by the current for a considerable distance, and then released back to the surface far from shore. If you ever find yourself in one of these, swim perpendicular to the current, or with the current - never against it, as you will only tire yourself out and it is a battle you cannot win.

Stephanie Ferguson

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 5:44 p.m.

Learning to swim is a lifelong skill that is so important for everyone. I am the Aquatic Coordinator for Saline Parks and Recreation and we have an excellent learn to swim program. Lessons range from water introduction for babies as young as 6 months to competitive level swimming. We also offer classes for adults as well as private lessons. Our facility has a warm shallow pool for beginners, a regulation size 25 yard competitive pool for advanced swimmers, plenty of free on site parking, on deck parent seating, an air conditioned waiting room with ping pong, fooseball and free wi-fi. More information can be found at Register for classes at


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 4:46 p.m.

Wait! So you're telling me that if we teach our children young the skills needed to avoid injury they will know what o do in the presence of dangerous objects/places? Huh, go figure! That's a great idea! We should scale it up and apply that to other dangerous things to kids!


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 4:34 p.m.

One added comment, if you can, let someone know you going to go in, or on, the water. Instilling this habit in your kids at young age is a very good thing to do.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

All elementary schools should require proof of minimum ability to swim (like getting to the edge of a pool after being 25 yards away) when students enroll in Kindergarten or obtain the skill during the school year prior to advancing to first grade. For older students transferring into out school system, they should learn to swim before the next school term.

Paula Gardner

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

@mady (and Rich), The deleted comments were reflecting a mistake that appears to have been edited into the column on the end. They're not being critical of Rich - who does a great job. We receive enough emails of praise for these columns at our office to prove it!


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

Heh! When I went to AAPS, one did not get out of Jr.High without being able to swim, there was a competency exam (yes, it required swimming). Now my niece tells me they don't teach swimming.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

Another good one, Rich, ignore the critics who had their comments deleted!


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1 p.m.

It's only an island if you look at it from the water.

Paula Gardner

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

In my reporting days, I covered a number of drownings. Many were children and younger teens who weren't afraid to get into a neighbor's pool or wade out into a lake - but couldn't swim. We've been fortunate in this area to have had very few hotel pool and apartment pool drownings, based on my memory. Yet that happens too frequently, too. Beyond swimming skills, classes also teach an understanding of the dangers of the water. They're not always obvious to kids who haven't spent much time around it. And it's heartbreaking. There are some free classes offered locally by the Y. Here's a recent story:

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:27 p.m.

"It's never too late in life to learn" Not true. My 90 year old Grandfather insists he cannot swim. Never could. While in the army for WWII they even tried to teach him to swim in the Dead Sea, which has a lot of floatation due to the extreme salt content. He says he sunk like a rock. It's a funny story. He's thin now, with no body fat. So I think he'd sink so hard that he'd dent the bottom of the pool.


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 1:28 a.m.

Its like language, sure you can learn at any age but when you are young its the best. Heck I feel this delay in learning how to drive just creates more poorly train drivers later on. I learned so much behind the wheel at age 16--17 when I drove everyday and even at night with a car load of friends back in the 1980's. Today we are told that is no good, its better to wait to drive when you are more grown up. Yeah it might lower the teenage driver death rates but what about the 20--30 year olds ? Sometimes it is too late to learn something new.

Kyle Mattson

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

I know how he feels Nicholas. Despite countless lessons and spending almost every summer at a lakehouse as a child, my swimming ability is still nothing more than a few minutes of desperate treading until I sink like a brick. Finally I decided to give it up and go with other sports that are more suitable to my build like rock climbing, but alas we're a bit short on mountains around here.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:17 p.m.

"Simper" Cop? :)

Sarah Rigg

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:54 p.m.

Thanks for noticing - that and one other typo in this piece have been corrected.

Dan Ezekiel

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 10:51 a.m.

Ironically, due to budget cutting, the A2 middle school pools, where many underprivileged students get their only swim lessons, are being closed next year. At my school, the PE teacher, Kelli Bert, volunteers and gives free extra catch-up swim lessons after school to those students who have never had swim lessons.