The South Haven Beach Safety Flag program on the North and South Beaches normally ends on September 15.
This year, however, flags that warn swimmers of unsafe swimming conditions on Lake Michigan remained up until the last weekend in September.
The nearly two-week extension of the program was part of an ongoing effort by the South Haven and City of South Haven area emergency services to educate beachgoers about the dangers of swimming in strong winds. waves and return currents.
“Our Flag Program Manager, Dawn Hinz, has done a tremendous job, and I cannot commend our Flag Handlers enough,” said SHAES Administrator and Fire Chief Brandon Hinz. “They really stepped up this year and agreed to put in a few extra weeks to extend the program for another 12 days.”
The Flag Warning System consists of flags in different colors that change throughout the day depending on weather conditions. Green means swimming conditions are mild, yellow means caution, while red means swimmers should stay out of the water.
The flags are just one part of SHAES ‘water safety program which was expanded this summer following three drownings in Lake Michigan near South Haven beaches in 2020 – a year in which water levels water have reached an all time high.
To prepare for the swimming season, SHAES has provided daily text alerts to notify bathers of beach flag alerts.
Beach safety protocol has also been promoted through placemats at local restaurants, social media websites and on safety flyers distributed by the Safe Kid’s Coalition of Bronson South Haven in coordination with the South Haven Visitors Bureau. The town’s “Good Neighbor Guide”, distributed to visitors during short-term rentals, also included information on water safety.
South Haven area emergency services have increased training, added equipment for its water rescue personnel and stepped up beach patrols, as well as officers from the South Haven Police Department.
“We have organized a couple of water rescue trainings and outfitted all of our full-time members with fitted life jackets, thanks to generous donations from our community,” Hinz said. “We continue to train throughout the year with cold water and ice rescues as well. “
Hinz also praised local and regional news outlets who helped deliver warnings regarding the hazardous water conditions on Lake Michigan.
“The media have done a great job of warning, informing about red flag days,” he said. “Local meteorologists have been very firm in their messages to stay out of the water on Red Flag days.”
City officials said these efforts to improve security may have paid off.
Unlike other riverside communities north and south of South Haven, there has been no drowning or water rescue this summer off the city’s beaches.
“We strongly believe that the increase in beach patrols, face-to-face interaction and education, and multiple modes of public information have helped tremendously,” Hinz said. “We set out this spring to manage this program intensively, to educate and inform. I really believe it made a difference.
Like many lakeside communities along the shores of Lake Michigan, South Haven does not offer a lifeguard program on its beaches.
A water safety committee that city council established earlier this year concluded that a lifeguard program could prove costly and that increased educational efforts would be the best way to reduce incidents of drowning.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has also started looking at ways to improve water safety on state park beaches. Earlier this month, the DNR announced plans to implement rules prohibiting people from entering Lake Michigan on state park beaches in unsafe water conditions. The rules also provide for fines for people caught in the water on Red Flag days.
The rules only affect beaches in state parks, but Hinz said he would favor similar rules on beaches in the city of South Haven.
“I support anything that will help us keep residents, visitors and responders safe on Red Flag days,” he said. “On several occasions we saw people on the piers, in the high waves and in the rip currents on Red Flag days. Our program doesn’t have enough teeth to do this (preventing swimmers from entering the water on red flag days), maybe that will help.