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Beach Ambassadors aim to help curb Lake Michigan drownings

Two communities affected by drownings are taking a new approach to keep people safe at beaches without lifeguards.

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. — As of Aug. 12, eight people have already drowned in Lake Michigan during the year 2022 in West Michigan alone. Those numbers have already reached at least 33 over the entire lake. 

With such grim statistics, many are wondering what they can do to help curb these instances. Many communities say they either can't afford lifeguards or do not want the liability. With this in mind, two cities are trying a different approach. 

The cities of South Haven here in West Michigan, and Milwaukee over in Wisconsin, now have "Beach Ambassadors" to help educate the public on the dangers of the lake. South Haven launched their program this year, while Milwaukee was in 2020 after four people there drowned at a city beach. 

In South Haven, the program is called SHAPE, which stands for South Haven Ambassador Program and Education. The Ambassadors are volunteers and will walk the beach handing out brochures and badges provided by the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. The badges include the signs to watch for when someone is drowning. 

Credit: SHAPE
Badges handed out by SHAPE to educate South Haven beach goers.

The SHAPE Ambassadors are volunteers, but on the other side of the lake, the Milwaukee ambassadors are actually paid 15 bucks an hour for their work. They patrol the beach and hand out pamphlets to people on the beaches to help educate them about the lake's dangers. 

Credit: Milwaukee Beach Ambassador Project
Education pamphlets distributed at Milwaukee beaches.

The program in Milwaukee started on a trial basis, but has been so well received it is expected to be renewed next year, as well.

One of these ambassadors, Mikayla Walker, spoke with 13 On Your Side Friday and said the following about why she joined the program. "I think a lot of people just feel comfortable getting in any body of water because they think, 'oh, I can swim,' but that's not enough. It doesn't matter if you can swim sometimes, because even the best swimmers drown in currents and that's what I've learned. It's like, I know I'm a strong swimmer, but I know that if I tried to swim against the current, I'm not going to live another day."

As a note, the ambassadors do not assist in rescue efforts, they are just out there to educate. If you would like more information about beach conditions here in West Michigan, just text "BEACH" to 616-559-1310. 

-- Meteorologist Michael Behrens

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