While Michigan and Great Lakes beaches are often beautiful swimming destinations, swimmers should be aware of the potential dangers when hitting the water. Dangerous currents, for example, occur throughout the Great Lakes. The currents do not pull a person under the water, but can pull a swimmer away from the shore.
Currents become dangerous when swimmers panic or try to fight against it. Experts believe a majority of swimming deaths have happened because people panicked when caught in a current.
Rip Current Video: One Kind of Dangerous Current
Signs that a Dangerous Current may be Present
- A break in the incoming wave pattern.
- A channel of churning, choppy water.
- A line of foam or debris moving seaward.
- A difference in water color.
- For channel currents, a sandbar connecting the mainland to an island.
Staying Calm Can Save Your Life
- Stay calm, control your breathing and try to keep your face out of the water.
- Float or tread water instead of fighting the current. The current is like a river or a treadmill — fighting directly against it will exhaust you before you get anywhere. Floating will allow you to conserve energy.
- Head for the shore as soon as possible. If you are too tired to make it back to shore, call and wave for help, continue to float and remain calm.
Act Quickly: Tips for Saving Others
- If someone looks like they are in trouble, ask them if they are okay, and if not, call 911. Communicate your exact location, GPS coordinates. This information can help the rescuers respond quickly.
- Shout to the person in danger, directing them to float and stay calm 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 with you.
Encourage your coastal community to provide a life jacket loaner program, water safety and rescue equipment for responding to emergencies, and education about beach warning systems to increase safety at the beach.
To learn more about how currents form and the different types of currents, see: About Dangerous Currents