The Coast Guard is reminding swimmers of the dangers of rip currents in the Great Lakes, with Lake Michigan bringing the most concern.Lake Michigan has the highest number of current-related fatalities and rescues of all the Great Lakes, with 77 fatalities and at least 230 rescues since 2002. That is 201 more rip current incidents than all of the other lakes combined.
Rip current concerns were brought to the surface in northern Michigan last year, with an increase in rescues and deaths in Lake Michigan.
Last year an Ohio man died after he was caught in a rip current in Lake Michigan off of Peterson Beach at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. A 16-year-old Leland boy also died last year after he was caught in a rip current in Lake Michigan. The teens death sparked debate about the warnings in place at beaches.
After the rip current concerns in 2012, officials with the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore intalled warning signs at the end of all roads that lead to swimming areas within the 35 miles lakeshore area. The Sleeping Bear Dunes also posts rip current informaton on electronic displays at all visitor centers and campgrounds.
According to the National Weather Service 68 people had to be rescued from rip currents in the Great Lakes in 2011. Sixty of those rescued were in Lake Michigan. Rip currents also caused 14 deaths, 10 in Lake Michigan.
"The Great Lakes form deadly rip currents just like the ocean," said Cmdr. Nathan Podoll, director of Auxiliary and Recreational Boating Safety for the 9th District. "The best safety precautions to take for a memorable day on the water for beachgoers and anglers include checking the National Weather Service's Surf Zone Forecast swimming with a buddy, swimming only at beaches patrolled by lifeguards, and if you're a weak or inexperienced swimmer, using an inherently buoyant life jacket."
Knowing what a rip current is and how they form is the first step to staying safe out on the water, no matter which of the Great Lakes you may find yourself on.
Rip currents are strong narrow currents moving away from shore. The strongest rip currents can attain speeds reaching 8 feet per second - faster than an Olympic swimmer can swim.
The following are tips for identifying, avoiding and escaping rip currents:
Identify - Look for changes in water color; water motion; incoming wave shape or breaking point compared to adjacent conditions; channels of churning or choppy water; lines of foam, seaweed or debris moving seaward
Avoid - Check the latest National Weather Service forecast for local beach conditions before heading out; learn to swim; learn to swim in surf; never swim alone; swim near a lifeguard; look for posted signs and warning flags indicating hazards; check with lifeguards before swimming and obey their instructions; always assume rip currents are present; if in doubt, don't go out
Escape - Remain calm to conserve energy; don't fight the current; swim across the current parallel to the shoreline; when out of the current, swim an angle away from the current and toward shore; if you can't escape, try to float or tread water until the current subsides then swim to shore; if you can't reach shore, face the shore, wave your arms and yell for help to draw attention
Assist - Get help from a lifeguard or if one isn't available, call 911; throw the victim something that floats - a life jacket, cooler, ball; yell instructions to escape; don't become a victim trying to help someone else
June 2-8 is National Rip Current Awareness Week.