Friday, September 4, 2009

Swimming in the Great Lakes? Look Out for Rip Currents

An important message from Wisconsin Sea Grant:

MILWAUKEE (09/03/09) -- Whether wading off a beach or training for a triathlon, Great Lakes swimmers need to beware of hazardous rip currents. These narrow, fast-moving channels of water can be just as dangerous as those at ocean beaches, overpowering even the strongest swimmers. Last summer, a Sheboygan teenager drowned while swimming in Lake Michigan when he was unable to return to shore.

“Rip currents are a significant concern for swimmers at Great Lakes beaches,” said University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Water Safety Specialist James Lubner. “They can occur in many places, when waves push water up on beaches. That water then flows back toward the lake, sometimes forming a strong current.”

Not even the strongest swimmers can successfully swim directly against the current, but escaping from the current is possible if one knows how, Lubner said.

“The key is to swim parallel to shore until you are out of the current, then swim at an angle away from the current and towards shore” he said. “The currents are relatively narrow streams of water moving straight away from shore. So swimming parallel to shore will get you out of the current quickly.”

“The important thing is not to panic,” Lubner emphasized. He also cautioned swimmers and boaters to remember that the cold waters of the Great Lakes can sap a person’s energy quickly through hypothermia.

The University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute annually provides Great Lakes public beaches with free informational posters and brochures about rip currents in both English and Spanish. The brochure in English is available online at or in Spanish at