Water-Safety 101: Lifesaving Tips


Water can be a source of great joy to those living in or visiting our beautiful Northern Michigan region. While activities like swimming, boating, wading, and splashing around are fun, they can also be dangerous. Read on as our experts share their top tips to enjoy water safely.

“Our lakes and rivers are beautiful and enjoying the water can be a special summertime ritual. Even on their calmest days, these large bodies of water are powerful and learning to swim and navigate them is a learned skill that deserves our attention.” –Jacques-Brett Burgess, MD, Pediatric Medical Director

In this blog:

General Water Safety Tips

  • Swim in designated areas. Look for sectioned-off areas with buoys and other safety equipment. If you are swimming at beaches without designated swim areas, beware of boat traffic.
  • Don't swim alone or allow others to do so. Whether you’ve had professional lessons or not, swimming with a buddy or group is always a better option.
  • Avoid alcohol. Don't swim if you've been drinking. Alcohol impairs judgment, including the ability to gauge body temperature.
  • Stay out of the water during thunderstorms and other severe weather. During lightning storms, seek shelter away from metal objects, open areas, and large, lone trees.
  • Never dive into unfamiliar water. Don't dive into unknown bodies of water, like lakes, rivers, or quarries. Check the water level before diving into any body of water, and always dive with your arms extended firmly over your head with your hands together

Swimming Safely in the Great Lakes

Avoid Rip Currents

Large open bodies of water with waves are home to rip currents, which are fast-moving streams that can quickly pull swimmers under the surface of the water and out into deep water. If you are pulled into a rip current, swim parallel to the shore. Because swimming out of a rip current can require more advanced swimming skills, it is best to avoid swimming in areas with rip currents altogether. (Image credit: Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project)

Avoid Swimming Near Piers

More than half of the drowning incidents in Lake Michigan over the past decade involved a beach with a shoreline structure, such as a pier. Water currents typically flow towards piers and other break walls, which can push swimmers into the structures and under them. For this reason, avoid swimming near or jumping off piers and other structures.

Designate a Water Watcher

A Water Watcher is a responsible adult who wears a Water Watcher tag and agrees to closely supervise children in or near water. After a certain amount of time (such as 15 minutes), the Water Watcher card is passed to another adult, who is responsible for active supervision. When watching kids around water, it’s important to avoid alcohol, phones, and other distractions like reading. As the saying goes, “When everyone is watching, no one is watching.”

Download a Water Watcher Card

Avoid Cold Water

It’s safest to swim when water temperatures reach 65 degrees and above. Cold water can shock your system and drain your body temperature much faster than cold air.

Don't Exceed Your Swimming Ability

Know your limits and stick to them. Currents can carry swimmers into deeper waters, making it more difficult to swim back to shore.

Download our Water Safety Guide

To Rescue Help Someone Who’s Drowning

Ask for Help

Immediately ask for help by alerting a bystander to call 911.

Reach or Throw, Don’t Go

Double drownings occur more frequently than people realize for two main reasons:

  1. The rescuer may quickly find themselves in the same bad conditions as the person drowning and/or
  2. A drowning person can inadvertently pull someone down with them in the struggle to stay afloat

Instead, use a floatable object or a reachable object to aid in rescue. This can include a:

  • life ring
  • kickboard
  • empty water jug
  • beach ball or inner tube
  • empty picnic cooler
  • fishing pole
  • boat hook
  • canoe paddle or boat ore
  • tree branch

Stay out of the water and brace yourself as you extend the object toward them. 

Learn CPR

It’s never a bad idea to learn or brush up on your CPR skills. CPR should be started whenever a person isn’t breathing or doesn’t have a pulse. Before starting, be sure to call for help and have someone call 911.

If You Find Yourself Struggling

Flip, Follow, Float

Similar to the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” concept for fire safety, Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project (GLSRP) uses “Flip, Float, and Follow.” Encourage the victim to stay calm, flip on their back, and float with their head above the water. Once they’re not struggling, the swimmer can assess which direction the water is pulling them and swim perpendicular to the flow. If they’re too tired to swim, encourage them to continue to float while help comes.

Home Pool Safety

While children ages 5-18 are more likely to drown in natural water (such as lakes or rivers) young children ages 1-4 are more likely to drown in pools. Here's how to keep your family safe:

  • Always supervise children. Infants and young children can drown in as little as one inch of water. Even if your older child can swim, never leave them alone. Many kids forget what to do when under stress.  
  • Enclose your pool. Build a fence, wall, or other barriers at least 4 feet tall around your pool. Make sure the lock can’t be opened easily by children. Do not leave toys or floaties in the pool that could tempt an unattended child to go play in the pool.
  • Establish safety rules. These should include things like no running or pushing near the pool, always swim with a buddy, no screaming, and no diving in water less than five feet deep. Be sure to review these safety rules with guests before they swim.
  • Use Coastguard-approved flotation devices. Inflatable toys and rafts can deflate suddenly, leaving your child without protection in deep water. Don’t rely on them or allow children to use inflatable objects to swim in water that’s too deep for their age and ability.
  • Keep your deck clutter-free. Keep the pool's deck area clear of tripping hazards like toys, dishes, and hoses.

Learn to Swim

Learning to swim is essential for anyone who spends time in or around the water. No matter your age, consider swimming lessons from a qualified instructor.

Local Swim Lessons

Where to Go for Care

911 is your go-to for life-threatening emergencies. But what about non-life-threating emergencies? If you’re sick or injured, we’re here for you with urgent care, including virtual urgent care from wherever you are. 

 Where to Go for Care