Breakwater, pier currents can be dangerous

A life preserver on the Grand Haven State Park breakwater.

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Most incidents in the Great Lakes where someone has drowned or needed to be rescued happen near a structure like a breakwater or pier, the National Weather Service says.

That’s in part because piers and breakwaters, places where people often go to enjoy the lakes, have structural currents that can make the water dangerous.

A diagram of a structural current, courtesy the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
(A diagram of a structural current, courtesy NOAA.)

“The current pushing up against a breakwall then churning, going back out into the lake like kind of a rip current, it can pull you back out into the lake,” Sgt. Cal Keuning, head of Ottawa County’s Marine Unit, explained.

These currents can grow stronger depending on things like waves and wind.

A kayaker who was ejected from his boat on Wednesday near the breakwater at Grand Haven State Park may have been fighting a structural current, along with high waves that crashed quickly.

“Sometimes you get humbled by Mother Nature a little bit,” the kayaker Adam Medema told 24 Hour News 8 after he was rescued by surfers and passersby.

Surfers rescue a kayaker on Lake Michigan at Grand Haven. (Sept. 10, 2014)
(Surfers rescue a kayaker on Lake Michigan at Grand Haven. Sept. 10, 2014)

Keuning watched that rescue unfold on 24 Hour News 8 at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

He said it’s best to stay about 100 feet away from any structures in the lake, as they can have their own currents. He said if you feel yourself being pulled by one, don’t panic. Instead, call for help and try to grab onto any ladders or part of the pier so as not to be pulled out into the lake.

And he advised caution in entering the lake at all when the water is rough.

“Just please be safe. Use common sense. If waves are breaking over the pier, don’t go in, please,” he said.

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