How to avoid beach hazards in the Great Lakes

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - The ever-changing weather on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior can quickly create a variety of water hazards during this time of year.

The chance of dangerous rip currents and high frequency longshore currents increases dramatically with winds as low as 20 MPH. Those difficult-to-predict waves can quickly carry you dangerously close to a number of water hazards.

Always stay well away from man-made structures. It's best to also avoid mouths of rivers as well as rock formations in places like McCarty's Cove, Picnic Rocks and Black Rocks where rip currents are very common and fatalities have occurred.

Marquette City Lifeguard, Dede Gorkowski recommends 'going with the flow' if you find yourself caught in a rip current. "Don't try and fight it. You should flow out as far as the rip current will take you and then swim parallel to the shore and then you can swim back in," concluded Gorkowski.

According to United States Coast Guard Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class, Timothy Koscielny, whether you're swimming or in a kayak, a paddleboard or pleasure boat, there's one piece of equipment that could save your life.

"Without that life jacket, if you get caught up in a rip current, there's a chance of drowning. If you fall off your boat and hit your head, you can't swim if you're unconscious. So wear your life jackets. We know not everybody wears them all the time on their boat but you should be. It can save your life," advised Koscielny.

According to the United States Coast Guard, 658 boaters died on our nation's waterways in 2017. 85% of those people were not wearing a life jacket. Alcohol is also a leading contributing factor nationwide.

Since 2002, a total of forty-one current-related incidents have occurred around Upper Michigan's beaches and twenty fatalities have been recorded. So it's extremely important to talk to your family about beach/water safety before you head out. And remain extra alert while recreating around the Upper Peninsula.

Hypothermia also remains a threat essentially all year long in parts of the Great Lakes. That's because the water temperature on Lake Superior ranges from about 50 degrees to 60 degrees this time of year, which is still cool enough for sap your body of heat within minutes.

In the event that your boat does capsize or you fall in the water, the USCG recommends you assume the 'HELP position'. That's the heat escape lessening postures position. Hold your knees up to your chest with your arms wrapped around your knees to minimize loss of body heat.

There are a number of other things you can do to keep yourself and your family safe while still enjoying the rugged beauty of the Great Lakes.

Swimmers and boaters should always know the forecast before you go out. You may also need various lighting, a whistle or air horn and other items, depending on the size of your boat.

You can find a vast library of useful information by visiting the The Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium.

Even more information can be found at The Great Surf Rescue Project.