This summer’s quick moving thunderstorms and windy conditions have created dangerous swimming conditions, especially on the Great Lakes, including Lake Michigan.
Drowning deaths are up 58 percent from last year on Lake Michigan, with 23 drownings tracked so far this year by the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project (GLSRP).
The biggest dangers to swimming in the Great Lakes are currents and wind. Rough waters and storms have caused the
National Weather Service to issue hazardous warnings and even swimming bans on several Lake Michigan beaches where dangerous conditions exist or drownings have taken place — including Ludington State Park, the Big Sable River outlet that pours into Lake Michigan, and South Haven and Grand Haven.
Rip currents affect the Great Lakes in the same way as they do ocean beaches, which can create a life-or-death situation quickly.
Swimmers should avoid swimming on the south side of piers or other structures where currents will be strongest and could pull swimmers out into the lake. Strong currents also exist between the beach and the second sand bar, which the National Weather Service says is deeper this year due to high water levels.
Anyone stuck in a rip current should swim parallel to the shore or calmly tread water until they escape it, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Dangerous conditions for boating and swimming also exist for area lakes, when storms come up quickly as they have this year.
Fenton Fire Chief Bob Cairnduff reminds swimmers and boaters to be mindful of all currents and approaching weather conditions. “We have had a lot of quick moving storms that have popped up quickly on the radar this year,” he said. “It’s never a good idea to be out on the water in a storm.”
Locally, there has been only one water search this year so far for a missing person, who was later found to be out of the water, Cairnduff said.
Search efforts on area lakes would usually be coordinated by the local fire and police department working together.
Additional resources, such as neighboring fire departments for boats and manpower, local dive teams, the Michigan State Police dive team, cadaver dogs, helicopters, and more, would all be ordered by the incident commander, depending on the incident and circumstances.
The highest recorded number of drownings among all of the Great Lakes combined totaled 117 in 2018. “We (city of Fenton) didn’t have any water rescues or drownings in 2018,” Cairnduff said.
‘Flip, float and follow’ to save your life on the water
‘Flip, float and follow’ is a simple instructive tool that can save lives. This strategy involves having a drowning person flip on his or her back and float, keeping the head above water. The person should then follow the safest path out of the water.
Source: Great Lakes Search and Rescue Project
Here’s advice for safe swimming and boating on local lakes
Swimmers: Know the water in which you are going to swim. If you are unfamiliar with that body of water you need to take extra precautions. Never swim alone and don’t mix alcohol and swimming.
Boaters: Always be aware of approaching weather (radar and weather alerts on phone apps) and always be mindful of other boaters. Not everyone on the area lakes is as knowledgeable as they should be of the rules of the water. Additionally, when alcohol is added into the mix people make bad decisions — driving a boat is no different than operating a car and swimming isn’t a good idea.
Source: Bob Cairnduff, Fenton fire chief