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Holland tries new approach to warn people about dangerous lake conditions

Beach flags
Michael Dawes

June marks the beginning of beach season in the Great Lakes – but it also means more people are at risk of drowning.

So the city of Holland is trying something new to teach people about dangerous conditions.

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project reports that 98 people drowned in the Great Lakes last year, the most since 2012. Currents caused by wind or structures like piers can make swimming in the lakes dangerous.

Beaches around the country use a flag system to warn beachgoers about swimming conditions. A green flag means it’s safe, yellow means be cautious, and red means no swimming. These flags can be all a swimmer has to go on -- especially when there’s no lifeguard.

Over time, officials have added warning signs and emergency phones to prevent drownings.

This season, the city of Holland is trying something new – a video that shows what can happen if someone ignores the red flag.


Ottawa County Sgt. Cal Keuning says the video, which features a teenager drowning in Lake Michigan, can reach more than just teens.

“We’re going to put this in schools, we have it on the web,” said Keuning. “We want to hit everybody from infant to adults because we all use the lake, we all use the water.”

That’s an important message across the Great Lakes region. Especially in Holland and other towns on the east coast of Lake Michigan where drownings are not uncommon.

Great Lakes Today is a collaboration of WBFO Buffalo, Ideastream Cleveland, and WXXI Rochester. For more stories, visit greatlakestoday.org.

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