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Sea Grant and City of Duluth Offer Safety Advice for Lake Superior Swimmers

July 8, 2004

Lake Superior’s waters are slowly getting warm enough for swimming. The University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program and City of Duluth want swimmers to be aware that on windy, wavy days, rip currents can form in Lake Superior, especially off beaches and structures extending into the lake, such as piers.

Rip currents are narrow, fast channels of water that flow away from shore. They are powerful enough to sweep away even the strongest swimmers, which happened last August on Duluth’s Park Point beach.

“Even though rip currents sometimes travel faster than Olympic swimmers, people can escape if they know what to do,” said Jesse Schomberg, coastal communities educator with Minnesota Sea Grant.

Tips to break the grip of a rip current:

  • Don’t fight the current.
  • Swim parallel to shore to get out of the current. Rip currents are rarely more than 30 feet wide. Then head back to shore at an angle.
  • If you can’t escape, float calmly until the current slows.
  • If you need help, call or wave for assistance.
  • Swim at a beach protected by a lifeguard.

The City of Duluth encourages people only to swim at the Park Point Beach House because it is the sole location with lifeguards. The City trained its lifeguards recently in rip current rescue techniques and posted two rip current safety signs.

Rip currents are less common in Lake Superior than in other Great Lakes. In the last two years, 18 people died along the shores of Lake Michigan and rip currents are suspected causes for most of the drownings. Nationally, more than 100 people die annually from rip currents, and the United States Lifesaving Association estimates that 80 percent of all lifeguard rescues result from rip currents. The National Weather Service considers rip currents the third deadliest weather-related hazard ahead of tornadoes, lightning, and hurricanes but behind heat waves and floods.

Recognize a rip current; look for:

  • A break in the incoming wave pattern.
  • A channel of churning choppy water.
  • A difference in water color.
  • Foam or objects that move steadily offshore.

More information about rip currents can be found on Minnesota Sea Grant's Rip Current page. You can also order a free rip current brochure from Minnesota Sea Grant by calling (218) 726-6191 or by e-mail at seagr@d.umn.edu.

Minnesota Sea Grant is part of a network of 30 Sea Grant College Programs spanning coastal states throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.

This page last modified on February 21, 2017     © 1996 – 2020 Regents of the University of Minnesota     The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
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