Lake Michigan lifeguards train for the summer season

Published: Jun. 12, 2023 at 6:40 PM EDT
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BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. (WNDU) - Closed beaches didn’t stop an open water training session today for local Lake Michigan lifeguards.

“Minimum standards, unfortunately are a pool lifeguard certificate and then it’s up for each beach community, if they have lifeguards, to do their own open water training and many beaches on the Great Lakes just don’t have that experience,” said Dave Benjamin with the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. “In a pool the water is calm. There’s no unexpected drop offs and there’s consistent warm water temperature, and when you have open water you can have wind and waves and dangerous currents. You could have cold water fluctuations where a pocket of water could drop ten to 30 degrees.”

16 local lifeguards took part in today’s training in red flag conditions at Silver Beach. They work beaches in St. Joseph, New Buffalo, and at a private camp in Harbert.

“Lake Michigan is a completely different thing. I grew up on the ocean, Maryland. I was both a pool and an ocean lifeguard and then coming to Lake Michigan was shocking because I didn’t think it could be this dangerous,” said Nora Howe who sits on the New Buffalo Lifeguard Committee.

Howe says New Buffalo has hired enough guards to cover beach duties there four days a week, Thursday through Sunday.

Benjamin says that Michigan State Parks stopped hiring lifeguards in the 1990′s. “Beach safety is not rocket science. Lifeguards are the gold standard of water safety and it really just should be here. If the state of Michigan is going to spend $30 million a year on its Pure Michigan campaign, which has billions of dollars in return, then yes we should have lifeguards at these beaches.”

Last year there were 101 drownings in the five Great Lakes. 46 of them occurred in Lake Michigan.

“We have a lot of out of towners that come. We have a cross section of people that don’t know how to swim,” said Howe. “We have floatation devices that are huge. Parents on their phone not watching.”