Weekend cases illustrate importance of safety precautions in the Great Lakes

Coast Guard 45-foot Response Boat-Medium File Photo

Coast Guard Station Niagara 45-foot Response Boat-Medium File Photo

CLEVELAND — Coast Guard crews throughout the Great Lakes were involved in 81 cases, saved 56 lives, assisted 264 people over this past weekend.

Two particular cases Sunday night resulted in six lives saved. An outcome that would have been much different if not for one thing the survivors did right.

“In both these cases, the survivors stayed with their vessels,” said Karl Willis, Coast Guard Ninth District search and rescue specialist. “It’s much easier to scan for a spot a vessel than it is to spot a person in the water. Plus, it helps conserve energy whether the person is sitting on the vessel or holding onto it.”

A Coast Guard Station Wilmette Harbor response boatcrew rescued four siblings who drifted offshore from Loyola Beach near Chicago, Illinois, Sunday.

Watchstanders from Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan received notification from Chicago 911 of four missing siblings, one 13-year-old and three 19-year-olds, who departed from Loyola Beach on two inflatable paddlecraft without life jackets.

The teens’ parents arrived at the beach to find their kids did not return before dark, and all their cell phones were on the beach with their personal effects.

Sector Lake Michigan watchstanders issued an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast and launched a response boatcrews from Station Wilmette Harbor and Coast Guard Station Chicago, and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Facility Muskegon. Chicago Fire and Marine units assisted in the search, and police and fire personnel established an Incident Command Post at Loyola Beach.

The Coast Guard Station Wilmette Harbor’s 29-foot Response Boat-small crew located the two inflatable paddlecraft with all four siblings approximately 4.5 miles offshore. They stated that the onset of bad weather caused them to drift farther than anticipated, and they were struggling to paddle back to shore.

The response boatcrew transported the siblings to their parents at Montrose Harbor with no reported injuries.

“These kids are extremely lucky none of them ended up in the water since they were not wearing life jackets,” said Willis. “The Great Lakes rarely reach temperatures that are safe to be in for a significant amount of time. Even strong swimmers must be cautious of the temperature, currents, and wind.”

Earlier that same evening, a Coast Guard Station Niagara response boatcrew rescued two men from a capsized 15-foot sailboat near Waterport, New York.

Watchstanders from Coast Guard Sector Buffalo received a 911 notification from Orleans County reporting two men, ages 78 and 65, who were on a 15-foot sailboat were approximately four hours overdue.

Watchstanders issued an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast and coordinated with Orlean County Sheriff to determine the last known position of the vessel. Coast Guard Stations Niagara and Rochester both launched 45-foot Response Boat-medium crews, and Coast Guard Air Station Detroit launched an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew.

The response boatcrew from Station Niagara spotted an overturned sailboat at approximately 6:50 p.m. with one man sitting on the hull without a life jacket, and another man in the water holding onto the vessel with a life jacket on.

The men reported that the sailboat had capsized around 10:30 a.m.

The crew brought the men aboard and transported them to Point Breeze with no reported injuries.

“This case illustrates the importance of filing a float plan,” said Willis. “They were stranded for approximately eight hours with no communication devices and only one life jacket. Luckily, they had informed someone when they should be expected, which ultimately launched the search and saved their lives.”

In addition to filing a float plan with someone ashore and staying with the vessel, make sure to:

  • Wear a life jacket.
  • Have an operable communications device (and a backup).
  • Keep serviceable signaling devices readily available.
  • Invest in a personal locating beacon so you can send your exact location to emergency responders.
  • Never operate a vessel under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

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