Great Lakes beach safety

The Great Lakes can act like inland seas and can have incredible force creating rip currents, dangerous wave conditions and other dangerous currents along beaches. It is important to note the following safety steps to ensure your visit is both safe and fun.

Know before you go

Visit to check the "swim risk" level for the beach you plan to visit. If high waves and dangerous currents are likely - building a sand castle, playing beach volleyball, taking a hike along the beach or other "dry" activities are a safe alternative.

At the beach

  • All state park beaches with designated swim areas (marked by swim buoys) utilize the flag warning system. Check the Beach Flag Warning system upon arrival at the park and be aware of what each color symbolizes. Be sure to monitor the flags throughout the day as wave and current conditions can change very quickly.
    • Red = STOP (stay on the beach and out of the water)
    • Yellow = CAUTION (watch for dangerous currents and high waves)
    • Green = LOW (swim or wade, but stay aware of changing conditions)
  • If you are swimming and get caught in a structural or rip current follow these tips:
    • Stay calm. Focus on breathing and float to keep your head above water.
    • Call for help.
    • Swim to the side (parallel to shore) out of the current and then back to shore.
  • Swim only in the designated swim areas and enter the water near a boat or dock powered by electricity. Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) is the result of a person coming into contact with an electrical current in the water. Stray voltage can can come from boats or docks with faulty wiring, frayed cords and devices not approved as shore or marine rated. These electrical currents can cause complete loss of muscle control, the inability to move and, ultimately, lead to drowning.
  • Take special precautions with children:
    • Have children wear a life jacket.
    • Keep close watch of children at all time. Stay within arm's reach of them when possible.
  • If you're on the beach and see a swimmer in trouble:
    • Call for help.
    • Throw a life ring or anything else that floats to the person in trouble.
    • Many people become victims themselves by going into the water to rescue a swimmer in distress. Don't become a victim yourself - perform a land-based rescue whenever possible and/or wear a life jacket.

For more information about Great Lakes beach safety and dangerous nearshore currents and waves visit