While Great Lakes beaches are beautiful destinations, learning about potential hazards before hitting the water can save your life. Dangerous currents occur throughout the Great Lakes and are very common along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. The currents do not pull a person under the water, but can pull a swimmer away from the shore.
Swimming directly against currents, along piers or breakwalls can be deadly. Also, attempting to rescue others without a flotation device can result in drowning. Experts believe a majority of swimming deaths have happened because people panicked when caught in a dangerous current.
Rip Current Video: One Kind of Dangerous Current
Staying Calm Can Save Your Life
- Flip on your back, control your breathing and try to keep your face out of the water.
- Float or tread water instead of fighting the current. Swimming directly against it will exhaust you. Floating conserves energy.
- Determine the best path to shore as soon as possible. If you are too tired to make it back to shore, call for help, continue to float and remain calm.
Act Quickly: Tips for Saving Others
- Learn the Signs of Drowning, see Types of Currents
- Call 911. Communicate your exact location to help rescuers respond quickly.
- Shout to the person in danger, directing them to flip on their back and float until someone can assist or they can swim out of the current toward shore.
- Help from shore by throwing a life bag, ring or anything that floats, like a cooler, to someone in trouble.
- If you must go in the water to rescue someone, bring something that floats, like a throw ring, boogie board or life jacket.
- Install water rescue equipment at public beaches
- Provide a life jacket loaner program for youth
- Teach others the signs of drowning
- Practice this life-saving technique:
flip on your back and float
Educate youth and parents about beach warning systems, like color flags and beach forecasts. The NOAA National Weather Service provides weather forecasts and warnings throughout the U.S. Boaters and swimmers use this information to help make decisions about boating and swimming safely.
There are a number of different types of currents in the Great Lakes, see: About Dangerous Currents.
Michigan Sea Grant is leading an effort, supported by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, to improve beach safety, see: Dangerous Currents Project.