Stop going in the water on the beaches of Lake Michigan when the red flags are up. Not only is it dangerous to ignore the warnings of weather experts regarding hazardous waves or deadly rip current conditions, it’s rude. It doesn’t matter how experienced of a swimmer you are. It doesn’t matter if you have been swimming in Lake Michigan every summer for decades. Lake Michigan gives no craps. It will have no mercy. It will not spare you and you cannot sue the lake and make yourself come back to life.
There are reasons people might not understand the undertow. Non-locals see a beach paradise that is unsalted and shark free, so they jump right in unknowingly. But for those of us that have spent our whole lives in Southwest Michigan, there is no excuse. Every summer, people go into the water despite the red flags, and every summer, people drown. It’s the most preventable, predictable tragedy, and it makes no sense. To be in Michigan is to have access to water in every direction within mere minutes. If Lake Michigan is rated too perilous to swim, go somewhere else for your beach day.
What’s interesting is that people don’t seem to need to be told to stay away when the news reports that a beach may be dangerous due to E. coli contamination. As soon as people get wind of those pesky bacterial beach day ruiners, they swear that location off until the all clear is given. Why is a microbial enemy more terror provoking than a sneaky underwater aquatic nemesis? Both an infection and a rip current can lead to untimely death. Please, please, don’t put your family and friends through that. Please, for the love of the Mitten, take the red flag warning just as serious as the E. coli announcement.
The very notion that you can outswim Lake Michigan endangers not only you, but those tasked with water rescue missions. Do you think it’s fair to force people to brave the clearly explained dangers of the menacing waters of Lake Michigan to retrieve you when you get sucked out to where you can no longer touch the bottom? Have you pondered how calm, cool and collected you would remain when being overtaken by water? Would you somehow remind yourself to float or tread water to conserve energy and swim parallel to shore to escape? Would panic set in? Would you be able to hold on until first responders were able to reach you? Do you know how inconsiderate it is for you to risk your own life and thereby risking the lives of others? It’s the worst kind of extravagance, throwing lives into the lake that way. You are not Mario. You cannot get a 1up mushroom when you succumb to the inevitable.
First responders are just normal human beings as well, with a different sort of heart, but they do not possess Aquaman like properties that allow them to breath underwater or summon indigenous freshwater species to come to your aid. A rescue worker cannot talk a Lake Sturgeon into giving you a lift back to shore. The Coast Guard does not possess a secret underwater legion of merpeople that come to their assistance in times of need. So when the red flags are up and you intentionally defy those warnings, you are directly responsible if anything happens to those people tasked with helping you get back out of the lake and should be held responsible legally if anything detrimental happens to them. What makes your sense of adventure more important than the lives of first responders or rescue workers?
The insinuation that your desire for a refreshing dip in the big waves of Lake Michigan has no natural consequences is ignorant. It makes zero logical sense why people don’t take it seriously.
When near a cliff, most people don’t need a sign to avoid the edge for risk of falling, but the signs exist anyway, and if you get to close, you fall off and die. Most people would not need to be told to stay away from a downed power line, but that information is disseminated anyway, and if you grab hold of a live line, you will be electrocuted and die. Most people wouldn’t require a warning about how dangerous bears can be in their natural habitats, but there are signs in parks where bears are known to hang out, and if you challenge a bear, it will maul you and you will die.
Lake Michigan isn’t a cliff, it doesn’t have electricity running through it, and it doesn’t have claws or teeth, but it is very much a force of nature that will kill you when you ignore the obvious.
Anna Layer lives in Hartford with her three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.