Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer in Chicago and for many that means it’s time to visit the city’s lakefront beaches.
But fun in the water can also lead to tragedy.
According to a 2018 national study by the USA Swimming Foundation, 64% of Black children and 45% of Latino children have low or no swimming ability. That’s compared to 40% of Caucasian children.
And at least six drownings have occurred in Lake Michigan already this year, including 20-year-old Kelvin Soto Crespo, who went missing after his boat capsized May 1.
Halle Quezada, co-founder of the Chicago Alliance for Waterfront Safety, says for those looking to learn more about water safety or to swim, there are plenty of resources.
“There are lots of resources from the Chicago Park District. They do water safety trainings and really affordable swim lessons in a number of neighborhoods,” said Quezada.
There are also many private options, said Quezada, and while they can be expensive often the organization can be flexible on cost.
“The key to drowning prevention is really layers of protection … and the best layer that you can protect your children with is really teaching them to rescue themselves,” Quezada said.
She also suggests that parents begin teaching their children about water safety as soon as they can.
“There is no such thing as too early. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently revised their policy and say [water safety education can begin] as young as 1 year old,” Quezada said. “There are also programs that can successfully teach children to roll on their back, find the surface and float to self-rescue as early as six months. So this is a skill that can save them when they’re young but they can also carry with them for the rest of their life.”
When it comes to Chicago’s lakefront beaches, Quezada cautions that parents cannot always count on protection from lifeguards, so it’s important to check.
“They are not on every beach; they are not there at all hours, and they are not there at all times of the year. So before you plan on entering the water, check the Park District website and make sure that lifeguards will be there,” she said.
Quezada also cautions against swimming in certain areas on the lakefront.
“Structural currents happen along structures, so piers and break walls and when the wind comes it pushes waves up against the currents and creates a washing machine effect. So one easy drowning prevention strategy [is to not] enter the water near structures like break walls, and also to know when there’s wind, there’s waves, and when there are waves there is current.”