Learn about rip currents before heading to Lake Michigan through WKTV program

With Lake Michigan only being about an hour away, it is easy during a hot summer day to pack up the family and head to the beach to enjoy the sand and waves.


Those waves also contribute to Lake Michigan being the deadliest of the Great Lakes. In fact, Grand Haven has one of the highest current related incidents, 109 from 2002 to the present according to the National Weather Service. Of those incidents, eight have resulted in deaths.


The major cause of those incidents have been rip currents. To help increase awareness about riptides the National Weather Service has designated the first week in June as National Rip Current Awareness Week. In honor of that, WKTV will air “Respect the Power,” on Channel 25 June 5 at 9:30 a.m.; June 6 at 6:30 p.m.; June 7 at 11:30 a.m. and June 9 at 7:30 p.m.


The video was produced by the Great Lakes Beach & Pier Safety Task Force and was created in memory of Andrew Burton Fox and Daniel Reiss, both who were swept off the Grand Haven pier and drowned in Lake Michigan.


According to Grand Haven officials, rip currents and powerful breaking waves are common in the area of the pier. But education, including recognizing what a riptide looks like and what to do if you are caught in one, can increase the chances of a happy outcome.


From the “Respect the Power” website, it states that the Great Lakes are better understood as inland seas rather than lakes. Storms not he lakes can easily generate waves up to 30 feet in the most sever storms. However, even smaller waves can be dangerous.


When waves break, water is pushed up the slope of the shore. Gravity pulls this water back toward the lake. When the water converges in a narrow, river-like current moving away from the shore, it forms what is know as a rip current. Rip currents can be 50 feet to 50 yards or more wide. They can flow to a point just past the breaking waves or hundreds of yards offshore. You can sometimes identify a rip current by its foamy and choppy surface. The water in a rip current may be dirty from the sand being turned up by the current. The water may be colder than the surrounding water. Waves usually do not break as readily in a rip current as in adjacent water.


According to both the “Respect the Power” and the National Weather Service websites, if caught in a rip current, try to relax. A rip current is not an “undertow” and will not pull you under. Do not try to swim against the current as this is very difficult, even for an experience swimmer. If you can, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then swim directly toward shore. If you are tired, tread water and float and call and wave for assistance. The current will carry you to the end or head of the current, where once rested you can swim back to shore.


Some other water safety tips:


1. Learn to swim.


2. Check with a lifeguard or with the park’s current conditions board before entering water.


3. Never swim alone.


4. Never dive headfirst into unknown waters or shallow breaking waves.


5. Piers are navigational structures and not designed as walkways, proceed at your own risk.


6. Do not jump or dive off pier structures.


7. Avoid piers when waves begin to spill over the pier surface.


8. To avoid rip currents, avoid swimming in areas that are discolored with sand and has a choppy or foamy surface.


9. If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore (about 30-50 yards) to get out of the rip current before swimming to shore.


10. Protect yourself from the sun. Use sun screen.