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I was just visiting Saugatuck Dunes State Park with my wife and two children. Thankfully, the water was too cold to spend a significant amount of time in the water–especially with the recent reports of two swimmers’ bodies found in Lake Michigan. 22-year-old Brad Stoner of Livonia and 46-year-old Daniel Reed of Redford were both swimming on Tuesday afternoon off the Southwestern Michigan beach when they were pulled in by a rip current. The Coast Guard and the sheriff’s department were searching for the men’s bodies and found both on Wednesday.

Rip currents are no joke and can put the lives of swimmers at risk by their strong pull. A rip current is a strong channel of water flowing seaward from the shore and the typical flow is 1-2 feet per second, although the pull can be as strong as 8 feet per second. Ultimately, the danger is that a rip current can pull a swimmer so strongly and quickly that they drown while fighting the exhaustion that comes with resisting the current. There are an estimated 100 deaths annually in the U.S. caused by a rip current.

If you ever find yourself caught in a rip current, you should follow these safety tips:

  • Remain calm to conserve energy and never fight the current.
  • Think of the rip current as a treadmill that you need to step off of.
  • Swim parallel to the shoreline to escape the current. When out of the current, swim at an angle away from it, towards the shore.
  • If you are unable to swim out of the current, tread water or float calmly. Eventually you should be able to get out of the current and swim to shore.
  • If you are still unable to reach shore, wave your arms or shout loudly for help.
  • If you see someone else struggling in a rip current, don’t attempt to save them. Many people die trying to save someone else caught in a rip current. Instead, get help from a lifeguard or call 911 if there is no lifeguard on duty. Also, throw a flotation device to the victim and yell instructions on how to escape.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Bob Pratt

    Mr. Mittleman,

    I came across your blog while conducting rip current research and found it interesting for two reasons: content and location.

    Regarding content; you've written a very informative blog that everyone who visits our Great Lakes should read. You correctly point out that we average about 100 rip current drownings nationwide each year. It might surprise you that 20% of them occur on the Great Lakes. Last year there were 17 rip current deaths on Lake Michigan alone.

    Unfortunately your suggestion to "get help from a lifeguard" is becoming more difficult to do. While lifeguards were plentiful on the Great Lakes beaches 20-30 years ago; more and more beaches are eliminating lifeguard services and only a handful of beaches still have guards protecting them. Unfortunately by the time most professional rescuers arrive there is little hope. Recovery within 2 minutes = a greater than 80% resuscitation rate after 10 minutes it's less than 10%.

    While I wouldn't recommend an untrained person attempt an in-water rescue, there are several techniques even a poor swimmer can use to save a drowning person. Since floatation is the key; getting anything that floats to the victim can keep them afloat until rescuers can assist. Many of our piers and beaches have rescue equipment. Throw rings are located on many piers and are easily deployed. Even in the absence of 'official' rescue equipment, rescues maybe carried out by throwing anything that will keep the victim afloat:a plastic cooler or a football for example.

    We are training surfers, paddleboarders and kayakers to recognize drowning victims and provide support until professional rescuers arrive. (Perhaps you could follow up these two blogs with another about recognizing what a drowning person looks like: it's nothing like how the movies portray it.

    Regarding location: Many of the rip current drowning victims are from inland areas and don't understand the power of the Great Lakes. Getting information to these visitors is vitally important. The fact that you live inland and are writing about rip currents is encouraging. The fact that I live inland and conduct rip current research is interesting but the fact that we live less than a mile apart, and our children played sports together in high school is quite a coincidence.

    Thank you for your blog and please consider joining our efforts to reduce Great Lakes drownings.

    Bob Pratt

    Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project

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