National Weather Service (NWS)
Great Lakes Beach Hazards Program
Know Before you Go:
To the Beach
Into the Water
Before You Go to the Beach:
Check the NWS Recreational Beach Forecast
Did you know that most Great Lakes NWS offices issue a Recreational Beach Forecast? This beach forecast provides beach relevant information such as expected air and water temperatures, wind direction and speed, wave heights, and the UV-Index. Most importantly, each day will be assigned a "Swim Risk" of either low, moderate, or high. The swim risk denotes the risk of dangerous currents and waves developing at the beach in question, based on the weather pattern that day. Check the NWS forecast BEFORE heading to the beach! To read about NWS Recreational Beach Forecasts and Statements, and where to find them, click HERE.
Choose to Swim at a Guarded Beach
The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) has calculated the chance that a person will drown while attending a beach protected by USLA affiliated lifeguards at 1 and 18 million. Always swim within the designated swim areas when lifeguards are present. If lifeguards or beach patrol close the beach, do NOT go and swim in an unguarded area.
Read Up about Great Lakes Beach Hazards
Do you know what risks you are taking when you swim in the Great Lakes? The Great Lakes are not like small inland lakes. In fact, they can behave just like the ocean. Great Lakes waves are very dangerous because they approach the shoreline very rapidly. Swimming in the high, rapidly approaching waves of the Great Lakes has been compared to swimming in a washine machine! There are a variety of dangerous currents that can develop, and knowing where and when they form is important. A quick reference for the various types of currents and information on Great Lakes waves can be found HERE. For a more detailed overview, visit the Great Lakes Beach Hazards Page.
Before you Go Into the Water:
Evaluate the Beach
When you arrive at a Great Lakes beach, take a few minutes to assess the area before you go into the water. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before jumping in:
1. Is this beach guarded? If the beach is unguarded, consider moving to another beach where there are lifeguards.
2. Are there signs posted about dangerous currents or other potential hazards? If so, read them and heed their advice.
3. Is there a flag system? Many Great Lakes beaches have a flag system. These flags have a sign on them that describes what each color flag means. Usually, a red flag means hazardous conditions are present on the lake, so you should stay out of the water. An example of the flag signs is below. Be aware that not all flag systems are the same, so be sure to double check the meaning of your local beach flags.
4. Is there an emergency phone or life saving equipment? If so, do you know how to use this equipment? Can you get to the phone quickly in case of an emergency?
5. If there is no emergency phone, do you have a cell phone? If so, do you have good reception? Many of the Great Lakes beaches (especially in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Northern Lower Michigan) are prone to poor cell reception because they are in remote areas.
6. Do you know how to describe your location to emergency personnel if you have to call 911? Drowning can happen in minutes, so knowing how to describe your location is critical.
7. Observe the lake conditions and the local beach features. Avoid swimming in places and conditions that are prone to dangerous current development. Dangerous currents develop when water 'piles up' unevenly along the shoreline. High waves, shoreline structures, and river mouths all cause water to 'pile up' unevenly. Avoid swimming: