Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including South Haven.
Rip currents can be killers. The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation's beaches exceeds 100.
Be aware of water conditions at all times. South Haven beaches currently use a flag system to alert the public to the Lake Michigan water conditions. These flags are flown at South Haven's public beaches from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. between May 15 and September 15. The status of the flags is also available on the City of South Haven website – https://www.southhavenmi.gov/parks_and_recreation/beach_flag_information.php
The public is advised that swimming is at their own risk. There are no lifeguards on duty at any public beach in South Haven. Signage is placed at all locations explaining the public's responsibilities when using the beaches and accessing the piers.
Learn more about the beach safety program for South Haven – http://www.shaes.org/dokuwiki/doku.php?id=public:beach_safety
The greatest safety precaution that can be taken is to recognize the danger of rip currents. If caught in a rip current at an unguarded beach, how you respond could make the difference between life and death.
The city has the authority to close beaches and the piers when dangerous conditions such as rip currents occur – Click here to read City of South Haven Ordinance for Closing City Beach Waters and Piers
As waves travel from deep to shallow water, they will break near the shoreline. When waves break strongly in some locations and weakly in others, this can cause circulation cells which are seen as rip currents: narrow, fast-moving belts of water traveling offshore.
Rip currents are the leading surf hazard for all beachgoers. They are particularly dangerous for weak or non-swimmers. Rip current speeds are typically 1-2 feet per second. However, speeds as high as 8 feet per second have been measured–this is faster than an Olympic swimmer can sprint! Thus, rip currents can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea.
Over 100 drownings due to rip currents occur every year in the United States. More than 80% of water rescues on surf beaches are due to rip currents.
Rip currents can occur at any surf beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes.
Rip currents can be found on many surf beaches every day. Under most tide and sea conditions the speeds are relatively slow. However, under certain wave, tide, and beach profile conditions the speeds can quickly increase to become dangerous to anyone entering the surf. The strength and speed of a rip current will likely increase as wave height and wave period increase. They are most likely to be dangerous during high surf conditions as the wave height and wave period increase.
Rip currents most typically form at low spots or breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as groins, jetties and piers. Rip currents can be very narrow or extend in widths to hundreds of yards. The seaward pull of rip currents varies: sometimes the rip current ends just beyond the line of breaking waves, but sometimes rip currents continue to push hundreds of yards offshore.
None, one, or more of the above clues may indicate the presence of rip currents. Rip currents are often not readily or easily identifiable to the average beachgoer. For your safety, be aware of this major surf zone hazard. Polarized sunglasses make it easier to see the rip current clues provided above.