By Jeremy Kienitz, MC Parks Recreation Director
Rip Currents and Beach Safety
Visitors come to Washington Park beach to enjoy the natural beauty of Lake Michigan’s coastline. Some enjoy the beach itself, while others enjoy sun bathing and sights such as the Lighthouse and Chicago skyline. Michigan City is very fortunate to have such a beautiful attraction and recreational area to spend the summer months with family and friends. As wonderful as it can be, Lake Michigan still presents a danger to those who visit in the form of rip currents.
Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. They can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including Lake Michigan, and they can be deadly. Rip currents are particularly dangerous for weak or non-swimmers. Rip current speeds are typically 1 – 2 feet per second. However, speeds as high as 8 feet per second have been measured; this is faster than an Olympic swimmer. Thus, rip currents can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. The following tips could save your life.
- Swim at a lifeguard protected beach
- Never swim alone
- Be cautious at all times! If in doubt, don’t go out!
- Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards. Lifeguards are trained to identify potential hazards. Ask a lifeguard about the conditions before entering the water.
- Stay at least 400 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist alongside these structures.
- Pay especially close attention to children and elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing.
If you are ever caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly. Never try to fight the current or swim against it as you will tire quickly and become fatigued. To remove yourself from a rip current swim parallel to shore. When out of the current swim at an angle, away from it, towards the shoreline.
Rip currents cause more than 100 deaths annually in the United States and cause 80% of all rescues by beach lifeguards. These statistics show the importance of always adhering to warnings and beach closings. The Washington Park Lifeguard Staff is available for information while on duty Memorial Day through Labor Day. Please take the opportunity to ask them questions about the conditions prior to entering the water. It will help keep you safe and could save your life!