Michigan DNR could fine people who swim under red-flag warnings

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 6:25 PM EDT
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MICHIGAN (WNDU) - There have been 40 confirmed drowning incidents in the Great Lakes this year. Nineteen of those have occurred in Lake Michigan.

In an effort to prevent drownings and closely monitor the health and safety of beach visitors, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has proposed a policy to fine swimmers $500 for going into state-managed beach waters under a red-flag warning.

Officials currently aren’t allowed to take action once individuals enter the water under a red flag.

The public was able to discuss the new proposal Thursday morning at a DNR commission meeting and a final decision is expected to be made by mid-August.

Dave Benjamin of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project says this proposed policy could be both a good and bad thing.

“We’re not opposed to this on the basis if it is only to like say swimmers and waders,” he said. “But we would be opposed to this order if it includes surfers, kite surfers, pro-style boogie boarders and other water enthusiasts.”

Benjamin says those enthusiasts need high waves to do their activities, but they also serve another unintended purpose.

There have been 986 Great Lakes' drownings since 2010," Benjamin said. "And not one of those is a surfer. And if fact, surfers makes rescues every year, usually multiple rescues per surfer, that go unnoticed and undocumented."

Benjamin is adamant that the flag warning system is useful, but not a replacement for lifeguards. He strongly urges Michigan to hire lifeguards to survey their beaches.

“Lifeguards are the biggest asset that any open water beach could have,” he said. “As well as a pool. Lifeguards are the greatest asset for water safety.”

16 News Now has reached out to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources but have yet to hear back. We will continue to follow information regarding this policy and provide updates as they become available to us.

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project has an educational video on how to navigate the waters of Lake Michigan. The video can be found here.

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