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Michigan City drownings raise questions about the safety of Lake Michigan

Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 7:22 PM EDT
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MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. (WNDU) - Recent drowning incidents in Lake Michigan have alarmed the public about the safety of swimming in the Great Lake.

There were five drowning incidents in the Great Lakes over the weekend, four of them occurred right here in Lake Michigan. This has left many people to ask what is it about this vast body of water that makes it so tough to navigate?

Dave Benjamin of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project says when swimming in the Great Lakes, it’s important to know the wind direction.

“Whenever we have winds going across the Great Lakes,” Benjamin said. “The winds create dangerous currents. And to simplify it, if you’re at the beach and you’re looking at the water, you should be assessing the wind blowing, and is it on-shore, side-shore or off-shore. Or a combination, side-on-shore, side-off-shore.”

On-shore is when water builds up and eventually begins pulling people away from the shoreline. Side-shore currents run parallel to the coastline and can feed into a rip current.

“Then, if the winds are blowing off-shore from the land out to open water,” Benjamin said. “Anything that floats can go far and fast off-shore.”

Benjamin also says these beaches have sand bar formations that most people don’t know about but must be aware of.

“Essentially hills of sand in the water,” he said. “Sometimes, you may go in the water and it gets waist-high, then it goes back up to ankle-high. Then, you go further out and then it goes to chest-high, then back to waist-high. These are hills in the water that are constantly moving whenever there’s a wind and wave event.”

Benjamin says one major problem is that there is no Great Lakes Region public relations initiative to educate people.

“A lot of beaches have been improving their rescue equipment and their signage,” he said. “But we still need to have public education about Great Lakes hazards and dangerous currents.”

Benjamin’s organization recently released an instructional video on how currents work and how to utilize the “Flip, Float and Follow” Drowning Survival Strategy.

The link to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project’s instructional video can be found here.

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