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Lake Michigan Drownings Spike In 2016

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The number of drownings in Lake Michigan spiked 84 percent in 2016, compared with the previous year, according to a water safety advocacy group.

In all of the Great Lakes, drownings were up 78 percent.

According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project (GLSRP), 46 people drowned in Lake Michigan last year, compared with 25 in 2015. Most of those drownings occurred off the shores of Chicago, and in Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan.

In all, there were 98 drownings in the Great Lakes, GLSRP reported.

So far in 2017, eight people have drowned in the Great Lakes, including four on Lake Michigan. Three of those four occurred in January and February along Chicago's lakefront.

Since 2010, GLSRP says, a total of 536 people have drowned in the Great Lakes.

"Unfortunately, we know that the big picture of drowning continues to be a neglected public health issue and we know that it needs to be part of the school curriculum and addressed year round," said Dave Benjamin, GLSRP executive director.

"Water safety and drowning survival is not common sense. It's a silent epidemic that gets very little proactive funding or attention."

"We believe that water safety and drowning survival is not rocket science," Benjamin added. "It is simple bullet pointed information that is not being efficiently or effectively delivered."

People know what to do if their clothing catches fire--"stop, drop and roll," Benjamin said. He says people should also follow the "flip, float, follow" mantra if caught in a strong current--flip onto your back, float on the water and calmly swim with the current until you reach safer water. Wearing a life vest could save your life.

Since June 2011, the GLSRP has performed 363 water safety seminars in seven states.

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