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.
Have Fun and Be Safe at the Beach
Swimming with other people is fun and is much more safe than swimming alone. Good swimmers are sometimes overconfident in their abilities. The force of a rip current is too strong for Olympic swimmers.
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
- Focus control your breathing and try to keep your face out of the water. Flip on your back if fast breaking waves are making it difficult to breathe.
- Float or tread water instead of fighting the current. Swimming directly against it will exhaust you. Floating conserves energy.
- Follow the best path to shore as soon as possible. Swim at an angle out of the current and then to shore. 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.
- Seek help from park staff, friends or others at the beach.
- 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 anything that floats, like a life ring or cooler, to someone in trouble.
- If you must go in the water to rescue someone, bring something that floats, like a throw ring 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.
Types of Currents
There are a number of different types of currents in the Great Lakes, see: About Dangerous Currents.
Dangerous Currents Outreach Project
Michigan Sea Grant is leading an effort, supported by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, to improve beach safety, see: Dangerous Currents Project.