Swimming Safe in Lake Michigan

HGTV Beachfront Bargain Hunt is a guilty pleasure with early morning coffee. The still blue saltwater of their tropical locations looks so pretty, but I know I’d be disappointed. The air is no doubt warm, and the water, warmer. But you can give me a cold and bracing swim in Lake Michigan any day.

Did you know that the water in Lake Michigan is warm through the month of October, and that the cooler air can make for a pleasant swim experience in pumpkin season? It’s true. The average water temperature for Lake Michigan’s southwest beaches is 60 degrees in September, and 56 degrees in both June and October. There’s nothing like warming up under the sun, then walking into the clear waters of Michigan lakes. The water is always brisk at first, especially when it hits your waistline. When your body adjusts, and it doesn’t take long, there’s nothing more refreshing in the whole world. These days, Steve and I drive by Lake Michigan every week in all seasons. In the summer, we swim in it every chance we get. The water really does feel like velvet.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that Lake Michigan is safe—just because our waters are “unsalted” and shark free. The currents and tides can be strong, and PFDs (personal flotation devices) are smart for children and less confident swimmers. Last summer, at least 40 swimmers died in Lake Michigan alone. So take precautions, and insist on safety measures for your loved ones. Look for the warning flags at Lake Michigan beaches—if you see the red flag, wind and wave conditions are dangerous for swimmers. Along with currents and rip tides, the undertows, cold temperatures, limited visibility and uneven depths can make swimming in Lake Michigan difficult. If you’re unsure, stay near the shore and always swim with a buddy. In a water emergency, FLIP, FLOAT, and FOLLOW. Flip on your back and float, following the current until you can break away and swim to shore. Or better yet, head 20 minutes to an inland lake or river. In Michigan, you’re never more than a short drive to another, safer beach.

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