Water Safety Day promotes easy boating, swimming practices

June 2nd, 2015 by

With the water sports season in full swing, a coalition of Indiana officials and community groups is hosting a Water Safety Day to raise awareness of safe boating and swimming practices. Hoosiers are invited to the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Michigan City on June 6 from 10 am to 2 pm.

More than 20 people drowned in Lake Michigan last year, and many of those incidents took place at the southern end of the lake. Since 2010, roughly 380 people have drowned in the Great Lakes according to data collected by the Great Lakes Surf and Rescue Project (GLSRP).
“We want to see those numbers fall,” said Leslie Dorworth, aquatic ecology specialist with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) and member of the Southern Lake Michigan Water Safety Task Force. “And there is a lot that individuals can do to keep themselves and others safe at the beach or on the water.”
Water Safety Day will feature information on everything from choosing proper boating equipment to tools developed by the National Weather Service (NWS) and Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) that tell beach-goers when and where it’s safe to be in the water. Paddlers and boaters can also hear about best practices from the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association (NWIPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).
The event will also feature messages from a new regional water safety campaign with tips for steering clear of dangerous currents and waves. The Be Current Smart campaign encourages swimmers not to jump off structures or enter the water when waves are high. And parents are reminded to “be a water watcher” and keep a close eye on children while they’re in the water.
In addition to hosting Water Safety Day, the Southern Lake Michigan Water Safety Task Force will also participate in several Coastal Awareness Month events slated through June. The group, which was formed last year by IISG, includes representatives from Indiana’s Lake Michigan Coastal Management Program, Indiana Dunes State Park, USCG, NWS, IDEM, GLSRP and NWIPA, as well as officials and beach managers in several coastal communities.

Nearshore buoy coming to Illinois summer 2015

December 2nd, 2014 by

A new environmental sensing buoy will be placed north of Chicago this summer, making it easier than ever for Illinois boaters and beach-goers to spend a fun, safe day on the water. 

Michigan City Buoy

Like its counterpart in Michigan City, IN, the nearshore buoy will relay information on wave height and direction, wind speed, and air and surface water temperatures in near real time. A webcam will also make it possible to watch changing lake conditions first-hand.

This is the newest in a string of nearshore buoys along the Lake Michigan shoreline. In addition to allowing people track waves and temperatures, the data they collect will help officials warn beachgoers when contamination levels may make swimming unsafe. Researchers also rely on the real-time information to manage fisheries, monitor lake currents, and improve hazardous weather predictions.


The Illinois buoy, jointly operated by IISG and LimnoTech, is expected to go online in May. The project is funded by the Great Lakes Observing System through a grant from NOAA Coastal Storms. 

Cooler summer temps led to fewer swimming fatalities

November 11th, 2014 by

If you’re a regular visitor to Great Lakes beaches, you likely noticed that this year’s swim season was chillier than normal. Cold enough, in fact, that many chose to skip swimming in favor of other beach activities. And according to officials at the National Weather Service, this may explain the unusually low number of current-related fatalities and rescues this year. 



From Michigan Sea Grant: 

There were 6 fatalities and 12 rescues related to currents on the Great Lakes, which is below the 12-year average of 12 fatalities and 25 rescues per year. 

As is typical, the majority of the 2014 incidents occurred along Lake Michigan. On average from 2002-2014, Lake Michigan had 25 incidents per year, while Lake Erie had 5 incidents per year, Lake Superior had 3 incidents and Huron and Ontario average 1 to 1.5 per year, respectively. 

The data for 2014 has now been updated in the Great Lakes Current Incident Database, available at The database was developed and is maintained by Michigan Sea Grant and National Weather Service (NWS). Megan Dodson, a NWS meteorologist, gathers the statistics for the database and provides yearly swim season assessments of conditions related to currents. 

Dodson noted the cool weather influenced not just the below-average number of incidents, but where they happened too. 

“A majority of the current-related incidents in 2014 occurred near river mouths, which is unusual when compared with past years,” she said. “The cooler air and water temperatures may have driven beachgoers to swim near river mouths and other outlets, where the water is much warmer. However, there are currents present that can be strong and vary depending on the flow of the outlet and the waves at the beach. While these currents are most dangerous during times of high waves, they can still be strong despite calmer lake conditions — as we saw during the 2014 swim season.” Read more 

Swim season may be over, but it is never too early to start planning for next year. To stay safe in the water, be sure to:  

  1. Steer clear of the pier — Nearly 60 percent of fatalities and rescues in the Great Lakes database occurred near breakwaters and piers. Structural currents are nearly always present near these barriers, even when waves are low. Breaking waves can also bounce off the structure, making swimming nearly impossible. 
  2. Stay dry when waves are high — Nearly 85 percent of fatalities and rescues in the Great Lakes database happened when waves are 3-5 feet or greater. Unlike in the oceans, Great Lakes waves crash against the shoreline in rapid succession, making it difficult to swim. Additionally, strong rip currents are more likely when waves are above 3 feet. The combination of quickly approaching waves and strong currents create extremely dangerous conditions for swimmers. 
  3. Don’t swim in the outlet — Water flowing from a river mouth or other outlet can push swimmers out into the lake. Nearly 40 percent of the 2014 incidents were outlet-current related. 

For more information and safety tips, visit



Make water safety part of your fun at the beach

July 3rd, 2014 by
It’s Fourth of July! Let’s head for the beach! You’ve packed up towels and snacks and sunscreen for a day in the sun and surf. Now give some thought to water safety too.

Since 2010, 357 people have drowned in the Great Lakes, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project (GLSRP). To date, GLSRP has tracked 27 deaths this year, which is up from this time last year. This may be due to the water’s cold temperatures after a tough winter. Colder water uses up your energy faster than warmer water.
GLSRP’s Dave Benjamin and Bob Pratt teach water safety classes on beaches, in schools, and at other venues. On June 30, they brought their message to Ogden Dunes in Indiana, advocating for safer swimmers, safer waters, and safer responses.
Safer swimmers means learning how to swim, but if that’s not the case, putting on life jackets, or other flotation aids, especially for young children. It also means keeping a close eye on children in the water.
But children are not the only ones at risk. Young men make up 4 in 5 deaths from drowning. They tend to take more risks, or can be over confident about their swimming skills.
Safer waters mean swimming where there are lifeguards and away from structures that can cause dangerous currents around them.
Part of a safer response is knowing what it looks like when someone is in trouble in the water. “Hollywood portrays drowning as this very dramatic thing with the victim waving their arms and shouting for help, but when someone is drowning you will simply see their head tilted back in the water and a look of distress on their face,” said Benjamin.
The safe swimming experts recommend looking around the beach before trouble happens to spot items that can be used for floatation. For example, if you haven’t brought a cooler yourself, you will probably see others on the beach that can be used in an emergency.


If you find yourself in troubled waters, such as a rip current, the most important thing to do is not panic. Pratt recommends that you remember to flip, float, and follow. “Flip over on your back, float to conserve energy, and follow the current so that when you know where it is headed, you can swim out of it.”

In the news: Finding a better way to get rid of unwanted algae

August 6th, 2013 by

Each year, Great Lakes beach managers have to remove trucks full of slimy algae from the beachfront areas to keep them enjoyable for residents and visitors. But it can be a costly process and a regular need that could be met in a more environmentally friendly way. 

From The Great Lakes Echo

“Truckloads of the stuff are hauled to landfills every week or so, but beach managers want a greener and cheaper method of disposal.
‘Algae removal is sort of a routine beach-grooming thing that we do, but because it’s wet and heavy, it can be expensive to dispose of,’ said Cathy Breitenbach, director of Green Initiatives for the Chicago Park District, which is responsible for 26 miles of lakefront in the city. She’s hoping to find an alternative that saves taxpayers money and is more sustainable than taking it to the dump like the district does now.
Composting may seem like an obvious solution, but it’s not as simple as it sounds, say algae experts. Cladophora mats can harbor large concentrations of bacteria, including some potentially dangerous varieties.
‘We have evidence to show that E. coli bacteria are found in very high densities in Cladophora mats,’ said Murulee Byappanahalli, a research microbiologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station in Porter, Ind.”
Read the complete article at the link above to learn more about algae and the need for a greener, cleaner way to dispose of it.


In the news: Illinois beach water showing signs of improvement

July 1st, 2013 by

Illinois’ beach fronts got a bit of good news last week as a recent report pointed to improving water conditions and reduced contamination. 

From The Chicago Tribune:

“The report compiles data on E. coli levels collected by local agencies and submitted to the U.S. EPA. E.coli, which can cause serious illnesses and infection, can be a predictor of other contaminants in the water, said Henry Henderson, Midwest director for NRDC.

Chicago’s Montrose Dog Beach and Rainbow Beach were the most contaminated beaches along Illinois’ Lake Michigan shoreline, according to the report. A variety of factors can change how a particular beach might test on any given day.

The study also found that Illinois’ 65 Lake Michigan beaches saw a combined 334 closings and swimming advisory days last year, a decrease from 483 combined days in 2011. The majority of those closings and advisories were caused by unknown contamination sources, according to the report.”

Read the complete article and more details about the report’s findings for several Great Lakes area beaches at the link above.

IISG staffers get their hands dirty for wetland restoration

September 4th, 2012 by

Last week, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant had a two-day meeting and retreat at the Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, Indiana. In addition to devoting some time to planning and discussing current and future projects, we were treated to a couple of informative and scenic tours in the area, learning more about the extensive restoration work to protect the dunes, the state park and national lakeshore, and the water quality of Lake Michigan.
Staff members were able to join National Park Service workers on-site to learn about and get their hands dirty at the Great Marsh Restoration Site not far from the dunes. Once very large, the remaining Great Marsh area is approximately 12 miles long and harbors a wide range of plants, animals, insects, and other beneficial organisms. Those native species are threatened by invasive species, however, and work is ongoing to plant and establish native species to bolster the wetlands’ resistance to invasive species and restore the natural balance of the area. 
Informative, fun, and muddy, the chance to do on-the-ground work in restoring this watershed was a valuable experience for everyone involved, and offered a practical reminder of the importance of restoring and protecting these areas. 
There are more terrific photographs of the restoration project and the lake shore on Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s Facebook page. Head over and check them out, and be sure to plan a visit to the park for yourself.

Keeping Lake Michigan safe for everyone this summer

June 1st, 2012 by
Ensuring safety for visitors to Lake Michigan involves several factors, many departments and people, and a terrific amount of work. And still, unless good, accurate information reaches visitors and people who need it, potential problems can’t be avoided. 
One such concern each summer season is the presence of rip currents – a strong flow of water under the surface that carries away from the shore. Each year, swimmers and surfers in all major bodies of water can be endangered by the presence of these currents. That is why developing a more accurate and immediate way of warning beachgoers about rip currents is incredibly important, and why the National Weather Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, life guards at several beaches, and other organizations are partnering to develop and share information about rip currents. 
From the Northwest Indiana Times: 
“…the National Weather Service’s Chicago office in Romeoville, Ill., and the Northern Indiana office teamed up with beach operators to enhance predicting and warning of rip currents along Lake Michigan’s beaches in an effort to reduce drowning deaths.
In addition to modeling to predict rip currents, forecasters now have the help of lifeguards at beaches at Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, Washington Park in Michigan City, Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer, Mich., and Silver Beach County Park in St. Joseph, Mich. The lifeguards report water conditions twice daily and can see the rip currents in the water from their guard stands.”
Read the complete article here, and find information about rip currents and beach conditions at the Great Lakes Beach Hazards from NOAA. And most importantly, stay safe and have fun this summer at all of the Great Lakes.

In the news: Testing Lake Michigan water to maintain a safe shoreline

May 31st, 2012 by
With the Lake Michigan lakefront now open to swimmers for the season, the Chicago Park District will be using a new system to monitor bacteria level and ensure a safe swimming environment for visitors. 
From The Chicago Tribune: 
“Chicago’s new elaborate system of buoys and statistical models will monitor 16 of the city’s 24 beaches, and Park District officials are seeking grant money from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to expand the system to cover all beaches by next summer.
The model will predict the levels of harmful bacteria at each beach using data on the location of sources of contamination, like colonies of sea gulls or sewer outlets; the motion of waves that can disturb bacteria growing in the sand; lake-current speeds; water temperature; and sunlight.”
Read more about the city’s new system for monitoring Lake Michigan here.
Skip to content