Personal flotation devices should always be worn by swimmers -- no matter how experienced -- when in the middle of a lake, the head of a regional dive rescue team and other experts say.
Gurnee Fire Department Battalion Chief John Skillman, a rescue diver since 1988, said it doesn't require much for someone not wearing a flotation device to become a drowning victim. Skillman leads the divers for the Lake and McHenry Counties Specialized Response Teams.
"You know nothing can go wrong with a (flotation device)," Skillman said Tuesday. "You can relax."
Lake County officials said Matt Reed, 16, was not wearing a flotation device while boating and swimming with friends Monday afternoon in the middle of Third Lake. Reed, an incoming junior at Grayslake Central High School, went under water and didn't resurface. His body was recovered in the evening.
Reed's was the second water-related fatality in the suburbs this week.
Authorities said Emanuel Mendieta-Ramirez, 27, of Mount Prospect, drowned Sunday morning when he and a friend went swimming in the Fox River near Carpentersville.
Skillman said all swimmers should wear a flotation device when far from shore, because even the most experienced succumb to fatigue when encountering problems in the water. Boats should be properly anchored to prevent them from moving while swimmers are in the water, he added.
"It's moving pretty quick," Skillman said of when wind catches a boat not anchored. "It probably moves faster than anyone cam swim."
Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Chief Louis Kent, who heads the department's marine unit, said swimmers far from shore without safety equipment too often overestimate their abilities.
"Wearing a flotation device is like wearing a seat belt," Kent said.
Authorities said currents pose as much drowning danger as deep water. A strong current may be present even when the top of the water appears calm, Kent said.
Last month, at least nine water-related deaths were recorded in the Chicago area. They included an 86-year-old South Barrington woman and a 77-year-old Lake Villa man who drowned in their home swimming pools, and a 4-year-old boy who drowned at a St. Charles country club.
Chicago-based American Red Cross spokeswoman Patricia Kemp said the recent drownings demonstrate how water safety knowledge is necessary for people of all ages. The essentials include wearing a personal flotation device when going into water in the middle of a lake and never swimming alone.
"Water is not something that is a toy," she said.
About 10 people die from unintentional drowning each day in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drowning ranks fifth among the top causes of unintentional injury death.
Illinois typically has 80 to 90 drowning deaths annually that mostly are preventable, according to the Red Cross.