Wednesday afternoon the wind was blowing at about 12 mph; the waves were 4-6 feet high. Possibly many teenagers decided it was a great day for an exciting swim in Lake Michigan. But for two of them, this was a fateful decision.
The boys, one 15, the other 16, were swimming at Manistee's Fifth Avenue Beach. It's the all too familiar story... they got out too far and one of the boys was caught by the wave action and pulled even farther from shore. His friend managed to swim in and immediately called 911 and the other boy's family. The younger boy was recovered about 30 minutes later, and could not be revived.
Rip currents, formerly known as undertow, are caused when water rushes away from shore in a narrow path. This happens when various barriers - a sand bar, jetty, anything - divert the water. They most often occur after storms as temporary currents, but permanent currents may be found in many locations. They can extend for hundreds of feet and travel at up to 3 mph. They can be 100 feet wide, but rarely exceed 30 feet.
Did this tragedy need to happen? Possibly not. Here are some safety tips for swimming in large bodies of water.
- Number 1 - Don't swim when red warning flags are present or when you see the following conditions:
- if you see different stripes of water color - the colors may indicate stirred sediments or different depths (and thus a channel of water movement)
- if you see a difference in waves - large choppy waves farther offshore while all is calm near shore may indicate currents
- if you see foam or floating objects heading steadily away from shore
- if you see a plume of muddy water outside of a sandbar
- Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic
- Don't try to swim against the current. Remember that these currents are usually narrow, and swim parallel to the shore to exit the current.
- If you are unable to swim out of the current, just float and ride it out till it dissipates. This will usually be just outside the line of wave formation. Then swim diagonally to shore.
Finally and primarily, know your swimming capabilities and use your head first!
from the Ludington Daily News, July 12, 2007 See safety tips at NOAA
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