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It’s not too early to think about rip currents

Rip Current Awareness Week begins Sunday and although many people don’t think of these dangerous currents during their normal waking hours, perhaps they should.

To help weather forecasters alert the public to potentially hazardous swimming conditions, Michigan Sea Grant and the National Weather Service have created the Great Lakes Current Incident Database, found online at www.miseagrant.umich.edu/dc.

The searchable database is part of a public outreach by Michigan Sea Grant to reduce the risk of drowning from dangerous currents, which occur throughout the Great Lakes.

A rip current is a strong, narrow current that moves away from the shore, with the strongest ones attaining speeds of 8 feet per second.

That’s faster than an Olympic swimmer can sprint, so it stands to reason a regular swimmer won’t be able to outmaneuver a rip current.

Over the past 12 years, about 140 Great Lakes swimmers have drowned in incidents blamed at least partially on rip and other types of currents, with half of those fatalities taking place in Michigan.

The effort will include putting in “beach safety kits” that contain a ring buoy, a throw bag and U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets for youths at 10 public beaches along Lake Michigan, with plans to expand the program across the Great Lakes region over the next two years.

Educational efforts also will involve encouraging swimmers not to panic, and not to swim directly against a rip current as this can easily lead to exhaustion. Swimmers instead are advised to swim at an angle out of the current and then back to shore.

Although it might be too cold for many people to head into local waters now, if they do venture out sometime this summer and find themselves in trouble, it’s imperative they keep such safety tips in mind – whether they are in Lake Superior or another Great Lake. The Great Lakes provide wonderful recreation opportunities, which should include getting back to the shore safely and alive.