DNR offers Lake Michigan rip current safety tips

The waters of Lake Michigan near Holland, Michigan. (Source: License:

Last week a father drowned in Lake Michigan, while saving his two children. Drownings are not uncommon in the lake near the counties in northern Indiana. But, a Dept. of Natural Resources conservation officer who patrols the area, says a little knowledge about how the lake works can help make your trip to the beach safe.

“We have a very strong rip current, especially on the southern end of Lake Michigan,” said Officer Terri Millefoglie. She said that current is the result of north winds blowing waves, which build up as they get nearer to the shore. Once those waves hit the beach they bounce back underneath the surface.

“It causes strong currents to want to pull you back into the water from the beach.”

She said the DNR has posted maps and signs to help instruct people how to get out of a rip current if they get caught.

“What we try to tell swimmers to do is you would swim parallel to the shore. As it’s pulling you, you would try to get out of that rip current and swim parallel. Quite often if you’re not familiar with them you may not understand what’s happening and quite often it will pull you in over your head,” said Millefoglie.

She said the Dunes State Park beach has lifeguards who watch for rip currents and bad weather, and that you should pay attention if the lifeguard tells you to get out.

“Lake Michigan can get fairly deep fairly quick, and even more importantly the sand bars are in different levels. You may be in four ft. of water, then you may go down to seven or eight ft., and that’s why we realy, really push anyone that’s on or in Lake Michigan to wear life jackets.”

The beaches have been crowded, and some of the city beaches have closed, which, combined with crowds from Illinois where many beaches are closed, has helped cause crowding at other beaches, like the Dunes. Millefoglie said the DNR encourages people to wear masks when they can’t socially distance, and to check out the “near shore forecast” for the area before planning a trip.

“It’ll kind of give you an idea of the winds and the the height of the waves.”

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