Great Lakes Boating & Swimming Safety
One thing the state of Michigan is very well known for is its spectacular lakes. If you’re a fan of boating, there are few better places to live than Michigan, where you can easily take your boat out on any of the five Great Lakes or any of the other wonderful lakes found within the state.
If you’re planning to take advantage of Michigan’s many boating opportunities, particularly on the Great Lakes, it’s extremely important to be aware of the unique dangers that come along with it. Not only can the waters in the Great Lakes be extremely deep, it’s also possible to encounter swift currents and strong waves. Lake Michigan in particular is known for its high rate of deaths caused by strong currents. The climate in this part of the country can also lead to unpredictable weather patterns, particularly near the water.
Before you take your boat out on any of the Great Lakes, it’s very important to make sure you’re prepared for these sorts of dangers. Nobody wants to have a boating accident, but they can easily happen in a matter of seconds, even to an experienced boater, and it’s important to take steps to protect yourself and your passengers.
One of the best things you can do to stay safe on the Great Lakes is keep enough life jackets onboard for everybody and make sure that everybody wears them while you’re on the water. Simply being a good swimmer isn’t always enough to help a person stuck in a strong current or dangerously cold waters, particularly if they wind up in the water without warning. During certain times of the year, such as late spring and early summer, the water can be much colder than the weather forecast would lead you to believe. Many people have drowned in Lake Michigan by diving into bitterly cold water, triggering the hyperventilation gasp reflex. When the hyperventilation gasp reflex happens while a person’s head is under water, they will inhale water and will most likely drown instantly.
Even if a person manages to keep their head above water, water that’s too cold can be almost paralyzing and make it hard to stay afloat. It will also only be a matter of time before hypothermia sets in. You should also make sure all passengers know what to do in case they end up in the water when there’s a strong current. The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project recommends the Flip, Float, and Follow method:
Don’t forget to make sure your boat has tools to help you get noticed if you run into trouble out on the water. Make sure the flares on your boat haven’t passed their expiration date. Boating flares are good for four years after the date of manufacture, not the date of purchase. You should also keep other tools onboard which could help you signal for assistance, such as whistles, horns, and waterproof flashlights. Keep your cell phone fully charged and store it in a waterproof container while you’re on the water.
Many of the best ways to stay safe while boating on the Great Lakes are things you do while still ashore. Don’t set sail without letting someone know where you’ll be sailing and let them know when you expect to be return. That way, if something goes wrong, rescue workers will have a general idea of where to look for you. You can either do this by simply telling a friend, neighbor, or relative about your plans, or you can submit a float plan to the U.S. Coast Guard through their mobile app. This is particularly important if you’re heading out on a large lake like one of the Great Lakes. Lastly, always check the latest weather conditions before setting sail. Michigan is known for its rapidly changing weather and the last thing you want is to be caught off guard by a sudden storm while you’re out on the water.