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Groups hope to reduce drownings due to rip currents


Safety advocates hope to reduce drownings caused by rip currents in the Great Lakes this summer - especially at Michigan beaches.

A rip current is a strong river-like flow of water away from shore, that happens when water is pushed up against something like a pier, island, or sandbar.

Swimmers who get caught in one can panic, become exhausted swimming against it, and drown.

Elizabeth LaPorte is with the Michigan Sea Grant.

"The way that swimmers can get out is not to swim against the current," says LaPorte, "but at an angle and then back to shore."

LaPorte says about half of the drownings attributed to rip currents in the Great Lakes take place along Michigan's shoreline.

The Michigan Sea Grant has set up a new website, dangerouscurrents.org, to teach people about rip currents.

The group is also distributing more lifesaving equipment at Michigan beaches.

LaPorte says a lot of deaths due to rip currents happen when young people - usually young men - jump off piers.

Another common situation is for an adult to jump into a rip current to try to save a child - and end up drowning themselves.

LaPorte says people should grab some kind of lifesaving device before jumping in to save someone else who is at risk of drowning.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.