Avoiding Boating Accidents on Lake Michigan

Afternoon high waves on Lake Michigan Chicago

When summer arrives and the temperature starts to rise, boaters and water sports enthusiasts from all over congregate on Lake Michigan, and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s one of the most incredible of all the Great Lakes—but it’s also one of the more treacherous.

About Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is massive; in fact, it’s the fifth-largest lake in the world. It’s 307 miles long and has a maximum width of 118 miles. This length-to-width ratio creates its unique shape and contributes to some of its more dangerous characteristics. Riptides, longshore tides, structural currents, and incredible waves. Winds that blow both to the north and the south have miles to work with when it comes to creating powerful waves, and these are just some of the dangers.

Being in a northern climate, Lake Michigan can surprise boaters with freezing temperatures and the risk of hypothermia even during the fall months. And the storms on Lake Michigan can be just as powerful as those more commonly associated with the ocean, catching many boaters off guard.

Coupled with the literally endless number of access points and proximity to population centers, Lake Michigan has the capacity to transform a fun day in the sun into a strategy. And the number of accidents and resulting fatalities are on the rise. While the circumstances may vary (being washed off the pier, hypothermia, drowning, etc.), there are particular risks associated with boating that you need to be aware of to improve your odds of coming off the water at the end of the day, safe and sound.

Preventing Boating Accidents on Lake Michigan

So what can you do to prevent boating accidents, taking into account all of the dangers? Here are some tips. 

Respect the Weather

Many boating accidents that can result in capsizing, a sinking, or an abandon ship scenario result from the weather. Even the most seasoned boat operator can be overwhelmed by the high winds, waves, currents, and obstacles that they may collide with as a consequence. It may seem like common sense, but prior to embarking, check the weather. Wait for a calm, sunny day, and don’t risk it! Watch for changes, and adjust your schedule accordingly.

Take Sobriety Seriously When Boating

Operating a boat while intoxicated is one of the most common causes behind boating accidents. Many operators don’t take sobriety as seriously while on the water as they do on the roads, but operating a boat while under the influence is just as illegal, irresponsible, and dangerous as operating a motor vehicle. Ensure that you or anyone else who might be operating any watercraft are committed to sobriety.

Observe Navigation Rules and Restrictions

There are navigational rules, restrictions, and norms that must be followed for you and others to reduce your risk of experiencing an accident while on Lake Michigan or any other body of water. They may vary, but it’s your responsibility to know, understand and respect them not only to protect yourself and the lives and property of those aboard but of others as well. This means observing speed limits, paths of travel, right of ways, no-wake zones, warning signs/buoys, and other types of watercraft.

Wear a Life Jacket

Wearing a life jacket is still one of the most effective and simple things that you can do to preserve your life in the event of an emergency on the water. Even the best swimmers are no match for the conditions on Lake Michigan, especially in inclement weather. Every single time you are on the water, make sure that you and everyone else on board have access to and are wearing the correct, approved life jacket for their age and size.

Maintain Your Boat

Mechanical failures and carbon monoxide poisoning are other causes contributing to injuries and fatalities on the water. And while not all mechanical failures can be avoided, properly maintaining and inspecting your boat prior to every launch can help you avoid at the least a headache, and at the most, heartache. Regularly inspecting the engine, running gear, safety features, and equipment can prevent premature failures that can lead to catastrophes and don’t delay or postpone repairs.

Create a Plan, and Share It

The unique wave patterns and storms on Lake Michigan can present a seasoned boater with unique challenges, and with hundreds of miles of shoreline, it’s imperative that you route your course and share it with others. Ahead of time, familiarize yourself with the area of the Lake you are going to be enjoying, paying special attention to any structures, known obstacles, access to services, the weather, and more. The better you understand what to expect, the better you can be prepared to avoid risk.

We hope that this information will equip you with the information you need to make your next boating experience on Lake Michigan a safe and enjoyable one.

If you or someone you know has been injured or experienced a loss due to a boating accident and you don’t know how to take the next steps, submit this form for a free case evaluation with Cooney & Conway.