The Danger of Great Lakes Rip Currents

Laura and I were out to South Haven on Lake Michigan last night as the storm was rolling up from open water. A couple of kids went out and jumped off the pier into the Black River channel. Not too bright. Several kids have died jumping off the pier in summers past, they typically ignored the warning of rip currents.

This video from ABC news has a couple of nice visuals on how rip currents form, and what they look like from the air.

Sea and Surf Kayakers’ need to be wary of rip currents if they swim near the beach, as this could make for a long trip back to dry land.

A couple of quick tips for paddlers and rip currents on the great lakes:

  • Rip currents always occur during storms where waves break on beaches. The water washes up the beach, it has to come back into the lake somewhere. You can usually see a channel running down the beach where there is a river returning back into the lake. However this is not always the case, sometimes this happens underwater too.
  • Look for sand boiling in the water from the bottom to the surface in a plume. Where there is a solid stream of sand streaming back out to sea, it usually indicates that there is a current flowing back out.
  • Watch for where there is a dip in where waves are breaking as this is where the underwater current is flowing against the incoming waves. It makes it hard for the wave face to stack up and then peak if water is flowing right at it.

That said, rip currents if you are in your kayak and headed out to sea can be a great tool for efficient paddling. If you look for the rip current on the beach, and follow it out, you could often find yourself out beyond the breakers with minimal effort. But if you swim, your day just got a lot worse.