Michiganders face tickets next spring for swimming in dangerous waves
The policy, a revised version of a proposal launched earlier this summer, aims to address a problem that has upset state officials: Swimmers frequently ignore the dangers of the beach, sometimes with fatal consequences.
Last summer, for example, bathers in Grand Haven had to be rescued after waves washed them off a pier in Lake Michigan. The next day, a 14 year old boy drowned in the same area in difficult conditions.
There have been 78 drownings so far this year in the Great Lakes, up from 82 at the same time last year, according to statistics from the nonprofit. Great Lakes Sea Rescue Project. Nearly half of this year’s drownings have occurred in Lake Michigan, which is known as the most dangerous Great Lake due to the combination of often perilous water conditions and heavy footfall.
Despite the danger, MNR staff wrote in a note discussing the proposed policy, swimmers sometimes remain in the water even as crews attempt to rescue a drowning swimmer nearby.
Right now, the best state beach managers can do to prevent these tragedies is to issue warnings. Many Michigan beaches use a flag system to signal water conditions: a red flag means it is not safe to swim.
“We’ve added speakers, we’ve added bigger message boards when you enter the park, and we’ve tried to create more visibility for the red flags,” the MNR chief of parks and recreation said Friday. , Ron Olson. But for the small minority of bathers who still insist on swimming, “it will be a useful tool.”
The new policy, which comes into effect in May, applies only to state-owned beaches. It would not apply to local parks, the shores of national lakes, private coastal lands or other non-state beaches.
State officials have not yet specified the amount of the fines, or whether repeat offenders will face more severe penalties.
This is a compromise between MNR and Great Lakes surfers, who have complained that an earlier proposal would have deprived them of the opportunity to catch the most exciting waves.
The new rules will not apply to surfers, kiteboarders and boogie boarders, as long as they follow “commonly accepted safety rules and procedures”.
This is good news for the state’s surf community, said Mark Cox, an avid Dutch surfer who sits on the board of a nonprofit that promotes surfing as a healing activity for military veterans. Cox said the new policy adds the restrictions necessary to protect novice swimmers, while recognizing that many surfers are qualified enough to stay safe in rough waters.
“Red flag days are the best days to surf because that’s when the waves are there,” Cox said. “It’s therapeutic, and I’m glad the DNR made the exemption for it.”
Beyond high waves, the ordinance gives MNR officials the power to prohibit swimming during other periods of “risk to human health and safety”, including when debris in the water presents a risk. danger to swimmers and where bacteria or other contaminants present a risk to health.
At a Michigan Natural Resources Commission meeting on Thursday, Natural Resources Commission Chair Carol Rose hailed the policy as an example of compromise.
“Kudos to the department and the surf community for being able to find common ground on this,” Rose said.
Dave Benjamin, co-executive director of the Rescue Project, called the DNR’s new policy a good step forward, but does not replace additional measures to ensure popular beaches are closely monitored by trained lifeguards.
As Bridge documented, many Great Lakes beaches lack lifeguards, including beaches in Michigan State Parks. Benjamin said hiring lifeguards would be a more effective water safety tool than adding new rules that might be difficult to enforce.
“It’s a tool that rescuers can use,” Benjamin said, “not a replacement for rescuers.”