The University Record, June 18, 2001

Michigan Sea Grant provides guides promoting safety on Great Lakes

By Carol Swinehart
Michigan Sea Grant

Free guides available from Michigan Sea Grant can help boaters have a safe season. (Photo by Dave Brenner, Michigan Sea Grant)
The Michigan Sea Grant offers the following information to help boaters, anglers and swimmers have a safe summer on the Great Lakes.

Know your nets

Boaters and anglers may discover something different in portions of the Great Lakes this year: commercial fishing nets.

Some parts of Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior are open to commercial fishing as a result of an agreement signed in August 2000 governing tribal commercial fishing.

“There will be tribal and state commercial fishing now in some areas that haven’t seen any kind of commercial fishing for 30 or 40 years. It’s extremely important that people understand what’s going on,” says Chuck Pistis, Michigan Sea Grant extension agent. Boaters and anglers in particular need to know how to identify and avoid the three types of commercial fishing nets currently used—gill nets, trap nets and salmon nets.

Visit the Web at to learn more about the agreement, how the nets work, what they look like and how they must be marked in the water (beginning in 2002). The site also provides safety tips and advice on how to avoid commercial fishing nets.

Don’t ‘let ’er rip’ your swimming

Rip currents can pose hazards for unsuspecting swimmers in some Great Lakes waters. They are so powerful that they can pull even experienced swimmers away from shore. To stay out of harm’s way, swimmers should be aware of locations where the currents can develop and take appropriate precautions.

One such beach is on northern Lake Michigan. The accessible expanse of coastline along US-2 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is inviting, but the waters are dangerous under certain conditions, says Sea Grant extension agent Ron Kinnunen, a member of the Mackinac County Water Safety Review Team.

According to Sea Grant’s “Rip Currents” brochure, some signs of rip currents (which are often easier to see with polarized sunglasses) include a difference in water color—either murkier from sediments or darker from greater depth. Waves also might be larger and choppier, and foam or other debris might be moving steadily lakeward.

Swimmers who suddenly find themselves caught in a rip current should not panic or swim against the current. They should swim parallel to shore until they’re out of the current. If swimmers cannot break out of the current, they should float calmly until it dissipates, then swim diagonally to shore.

Avoid rough time on rough water

“Mal de Mar” is that queasy feeling some people get when they take to the water in boats ranging from canoes to ocean liners. Find out how to weather a storm on the Great Lakes or the ocean by reading Sea Grant’s “Get a Grip on Ocean Motion.” The brochure provides helpful hints for maximizing the enjoyment of boating by minimizing seasickness.

Lightning and boats

A Michigan Sea Grant guide, “Lightning and Boats,” helps sailors avoid being struck by lightning during summer storms by showing them how to install an onboard lightning protection system to lessen the chances of harm.

Low water, high alert

This summer’s low Great Lakes water levels will affect recreational boaters. “They will have to be very cautious this year in areas where they know the lakes are shallow,” advises John McKinney, Sea Grant extension agent. Rocks, shoals and other structures usually far underwater are now closer to the surface, he notes, and pose potential hazards.

“Water Wise,” Sea Grant’s safety guide, offers valuable navigation lessons for both new and experienced boaters.

“Rip Currents,” “Get a Grip on Ocean Motion,” “Lightning and Boats” and “Water Wise” are available from Michigan Sea Grant by sending e-mail to or visiting the Michigan Sea Grant Web site,

Michigan Sea Grant, a cooperative program of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, supports understanding and stewardship of Great Lakes and ocean resources. Sea Grant is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce and state of Michigan.