ITHACA, N.Y. — The U.S. Coast Guard’s Ithaca Auxiliary Flotilla 2-2 is urging boaters and swimmers to take extra precautions as the summer winds down. Drowning deaths have reached “an alarming high” in the Great Lakes and surrounding states in 2019, according to the U.S. Coast Guard Ninth District. So far, the agency has reported 70 deaths in the region.

“We urge folks to be aware of the dangers of swimming in our natural and man made waterways and to have a plan for survival if an accident does happen,” a statement circulated by the auxiliary office reads.

The statement was released following a request from Capt. Benjamin Cooper, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Coast Guard Ninth District. The district encompasses the Great Lakes, Saint Lawrence Seaway, and portions of surrounding states, including most of western and central New York.

A map shared to social media on July 26 showed about 10 drownings along upstate New York shores and waterways that the Coast Guard patrols. High water levels have contributed to strong rip currents and have submerged structures that are normally visible, according to the USCG, increasing the risk of boating incidents. Cold water temperatures and boating without a life jacket have contributed to deaths, the agency said.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary in Ithaca is a volunteer flotilla, which provides boating safety classes, patrols and vessel safety checks. They say boaters and swimmers should be vigilant when heading out onto the water, including checking wind speed and direction.

“A life jacket must be worn, fit well, and be Coast Guard approved for it to work. Boaters should consider bright colors or reflective tape to assist search and rescue efforts in case of an emergency.

“If you fall into the water remember Flip, Float and Follow your way to safety. Flip onto your back keeping your head above water, Float and rest so that you do not panic and tire out too quickly. And Follow the current to determine the direction to safety. When you determine the path to safety swim perpendicular to the current,” a statement from the flotilla reads.

Courtesy of Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, provided by USCG Flotilla 2-2.

Ithaca has seen one drowning fatality in Buttermilk Falls State Park this summer. New York State Park Police and local emergency responders from the Ithaca Fire Department, Bangs Ambulance and Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene but were unable to resuscitate the man, who was unconscious when crews arrived.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 332 people died from drowning in boating incidents each year from 2005-2014 nationwide. In addition, there were about 3,536 fatal drownings unrelated to boating each year. About 20% of drowning victims during the study period were 14 years old or younger.

For more boating and swimming safety information, contact USCG Flotilla 2-2 by email or phone (607-273-7175).

Featured image: Summer Place approaching in preparation for taking Wandering C’s in tow during a drill. (Courtesy of USCG Auxiliary Flotilla 2-2)

Devon Magliozzi

Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at dmagliozzi@ithacavoice.com or 607-391-0328.