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Water Safety Week: Flags, rip currents, and changes at the beach

lake michigan 2.jpg
Posted at 6:43 AM, Jun 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-01 11:50:52-04

HOLLAND, Mich. — Every year the Great Lakes see numerous drownings.

According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, so far this year alone, there have been 16 possible drownings in Lake Michigan alone, and 32 drownings across the Great Lakes this year. Since 2010, there have been nearly 1,100 drownings across the lakes.

Experts say a majority of them could have been prevented.

On day two of Water Safety Week, it’s all about beach safety and FOX 17 went to Holland State Park to learn more.

Holland State Park Unit Supervisor Sean Mulligan says the flag system is an easy indication on what you can expect in the water.

Getting out of rip currents
Red Flag at Lake Michigan

Like a stop light, green means go, yellow means use caution, and a red flag indicates you shouldn’t enter the lake.

Each flag is associated with wave height, and current strength.

Understanding Warning Flags

A red flag, however, isn't the only reason the water may be closed off to swimmers.

“If there’s a boat accident, there’s debris in the water or hazardous material in the water or health concerns
from E. Coli, then we can actually close access to the water,” Mulligan said.

When it comes to rip tides, Michigan beaches can experience several types, including rip currents, structural currents, channel currents, longshore currents and outlet currents.

Mulligan says if you catch yourself getting caught up in a current your best bet is to flip, float and follow.

Rip Current dangers

Flip, float and follow breaks down to flipping over onto your back, float with your head above water to conserve energy and then follow the safest path to safety.

Lake Michigan Rip Currents

Finally a trip to the pier often means a walk along the pier and there are times when it’s best to stay off the pier. Mulligan says staying off the pier is a good idea when a red flag is up because waves can crash over the pier and create unexpected hazardous conditions.

Holland State Park

If you do see someone who has fallen off the pier or is struggling in the water, he says calling 911 first, indicating your exact location, and throwing a flotation device generally located on the pier is your best option.

“Be careful not to hazard yourself because we’ve had situations when people have tried to save somebody else and lost their own lives,” Mulligan said.