ST. JOSEPH The Independence Day holiday is one of the busiest travel weekends of the summer, and for many that means a trip to the beach. In fact, AAA says people will overwhelmingly take advantage of warm, beach destinations in 2015 with 9 of the top 10 US vacations there.
If sand and sun are in the plans, experts advise tourists take caution before hitting the waves on a busy day.
"The more people we have at the beach, the more dangerous it can be. The recipe for disaster, most of the time on the Great Lakes, is a really hot summer day over a holiday or weekend when there are waves," said Bob Pratt, the Education Director for the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project (GLSRP).
The GLSRP has been tracking drownings since 2010 and found many of the deaths occur near Michiana.
"Since 2010, there have been about 390 fatal drownings on the Great Lakes," said Pratt. "Half of those drownings occur on Lake Michigan, and half of those drownings happen at the south end of the lake."
Pratt attributes that to the high population in Southwest Michigan and the north-south orientation, or wave build, on the southern shore. He says 3-5 foot waves are the most dangerous because they carry dangerous currents. Rip currents, off shore currents, long shore currents and structural currents are all possible at places like Silver Beach in St. Joseph. To avoid a devastating situation, GLSRP advises people follow the motto "flip, float and follow."
"Flip over onto your back, which allows you to breathe whenever you want to. Taking a nice deep breath will allow you to be more buoyant in the water. Relax, try to control that panic. Recognize which way the current is carrying you and then swim in a perpendicular path away from it and follow a safe path back to shore," said Pratt.
Hypothermia is also a concern in cold water. StormTeam 16 is predicting mid 70 degree air temperatures with light wind and 1-2 foot waves on Saturday, July 4. However, the water temperature is only between 60-62 degrees.
The GLSRP advises all swimmers, especially children and inexperienced swimmers, wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket. For more information from the GLSRP, click here.