MILWAUKEE — The Coast Guard is advising Lake Michigan residents and visitors to be cautious if swimming or recreating in or around the lake, as a strong cold front is expected over the weekend.
According the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, Mich., winds and waves are expected to increase considerably this afternoon and tonight. A beach hazards statement is in effect until Friday night for beaches from Manistee, Mich., to St. Joseph, Mich. Hazards include high wave action, strong currents, possible rip currents, and dangerous swimming conditions.
“It’s imperative that those who choose to swim in Lake Michigan this weekend exhibit personal responsibility for their safety and the safety of others,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Randy Williams, a search-and-rescue controller at Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan in Milwaukee. “Whether boating or swimming, always be mindful of the conditions on the water and along the shoreline. If rip current warnings, small craft advisories, or other dangerous weather conditions are forecasted, it's best to stay away from the water.”
The Coast Guard recommends the following tips for swimmers:
Swim near a lifeguard — U.S. Lifesaving Association statistics during a 10-year period show that the chance of drowning at a beach without lifeguard protection is almost five times as great as drowning at a beach with lifeguards.
Never swim alone — Many drownings involve single swimmers. Learn water rescue techniques you can use if someone you are swimming with is in danger.
Don’t fight the current — If caught in a rip current, don’t fight it by trying to swim directly to shore. Instead, swim parallel to shore until you feel the current relax, then swim to shore. Most rip currents are narrow and a short swim parallel to shore will bring a swimmer to safety.
Swim sober — Alcohol is a major factor in drowning. Alcohol can reduce body temperature and impair swimming ability. Both alcohol and drugs impair good judgment, which may cause people to take risks they would not otherwise take.
Don’t float where you can’t swim — Non-swimmers and weak swimmers often use flotation devices, such as inflatable rafts, to go offshore. If they fall off, they can quickly drown. No one should use a flotation device unless they are also able to swim. The only exception is a person wearing an inherently buoyant Coast Guard approved Type I, II or III life jacket.
Prepare for the unexpected — Wear a life jacket while participating in any activity during which you could unexpectedly enter the water, such as when fishing from break walls or piers.
Avoid unnecessary risks — Walking along breakwalls is risky, because it only takes a momentary loss of footing to invite tragedy. Jumping from breakwalls, waterside structures, or into unfamiliar water is extremely dangerous since unseen underwater hazards may exist.
Read a June 2013 Coast Guard news release to learn more about rip current safety.
Read the National Weather Service’s beach hazards statement.