Expert offers water safety advice

Published 10:02 am Monday, July 14, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The conditions thought to have caused the drowning of seven people on Lake Michigan's western shores on the Fourth of July aren't easy to detect.
Especially, perhaps, for people who aren't used to the lake.
Lt. Ed Sherrick, Berrien County Sheriff's Department's Water Safety Division, said people should be aware that rip currents and undertows appear when certain weather factors culminate at a particular time.
He said the main factors creating the dangerous conditions are air temperature, high water temperatures and high velocity winds from the southwest.
And, the conditions occur in areas of shallow water, Sherrick said.
Under normal conditions, waves break before they reach the beach and roll up onto the beach before the water flows back into the lake, he said.
Although it can be hard to localize rip currents and undertows, Sherrick said people can follow a few guidelines when deciding whether swimming in the lake is safe or not.
He said the guidelines include being alert when waves are breaking and the water surface is frothy and white, as well as noticing what color the water is.
Sherrick, however, said murky lake water doesn't always mean there are rip currents and undertows in the lake.
Always being aware of the surroundings, never swimming alone and having some sort of personal flotation device available reduces the risk of having to deal with dangerous situations while swimming in the lake, Sherrick said.
Sherrick also explained what to do if caught in a current.
Many people when caught in a current, however, try to fight it in an effort to reach back to shore.
Fighting the current often leads to exhaustion, which again can lead to drowning accidents.
Sherrick said water safety is about public awareness and learning what to do if things happen to you.
He also said people visiting the lake should respect and follow the warnings posted.
If a situation occurs and an individual must respond to a swimmer in distress, Sherrick said the best way to ensure the safety of both the rescuer and the person being rescued, is for the rescuer to have a floating device with him or her while doing the rescue.
Which is sometimes needed when a panicking swimmer's life preservation instincts defeats common sense which could put a rescuer in danger.