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Swimmers ignoring red flag warnings

8:31 PM, Jul 22, 2013   |    comments
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The Department of Natural Resources can only recommend that people avoid swimming on red flag days, it cannot be enforced. It's up to swimmers to know the potential hazards.

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WZZM) -- The men and women whose job it is to protect people along Lake Michigan say swimmers aren't paying attention to their warnings.

"I shake my head at people who swim on red flag days because they are asking for trouble", says Joyce Rhodes, the supervisor at Grand Haven State Park.

She's spent 36 years working on beaches along Lake Michigan and sees people every day going against the warnings. "They don't respect the power of the lake."

On Monday, the Grand Haven beach had waves at around three feet; that's just enough for the park staff to put up the red flag.

Diane Bartrand saw it and admits she was concerned about her two grandchildren. "I thought the only way they're going to get out there is if they have life jackets. We took a walk on the pier and insisted that they put them on", says Bartrand.

Each year, both the state parks and the United States Coast Guard issue tips. If you get caught in a rip current, officer Kirk McKay says, "You should swim parallel and once it releases you, then you can start swimming in with the waves."

He says you should not attempt to rescue someone on your own unless you have a flotation device. "You don't want to get yourself out there and become part of the problem as well," says McKay.

You can, however, give the swimmer instructions on what to do. "Tell them to float on their backs. Their first reaction is to swim face down; that can cause you to engulf water and drown", says Rhodes.

Of course, the best advice is prevention: if it's a red flag day, wear a life jacket or just stay out of the water.

"I know how much fun it is to play in the waves, but it's a matter of life and death. There are too many people that drown," says Rhodes.

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