SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. — When going to the beach on this Fourth of July weekend, be mindful of three colors - green, yellow and red - each indicating the level of swim risk.
If a green flag is present on the beach, the water is calm and swimming conditions are good. A yellow flag means there is potentially high surf and beachgoers must swim with caution. A red flag means dangerous surf and strong currents exist, and people should avoid swimming or going on piers.
The National Weather Service said South Haven was in the yellow on Friday, June 2, 2021. The day before, it was in the red.
Because of the risks, many beachgoers avoided going into the water, including Dorota Czyzewski and her sons.
"Cold and windy, big waves, so we're gonna sit it out (Friday)," said Czyzewski.
Instead, they found other ways to have fun.
"Dip our feet, play in the sand, go get ice cream," Czyzewski said. "I love my kids being happy. They enjoy it so much. It just brings me so much joy to see them play."
While Czyzewski and other beachgoers enjoyed themselves, the South Haven Area Emergency Services Authority kept an eye on water conditions.
"We'll periodically go down there. You have the flag attendants as well that check the beach conditions, and we can also monitor from the report room as well," said Dive Captain Steve Cavadas, who also serves as the assistant fire inspector.
Cavadas said beachgoers should not only adhere to the flag system, but use good judgement as well. As a parent, Cavadas said he and his family may avoid the water even on a yellow flag day.
But for those who find themselves in rough waters, Cavadas advised the following course of action.
"If you get caught in a current, you want to just go with the current. It's only going to take you so far. Don't try to fight it," Cavadas said. "Then you want to swim parallel to the beach, then go back in. You try to fight it, you're just going to be tired."
If the situation worsens, the South Haven Area Emergency Services Authority would deploy a rescue boat. The agency may also deploy drones, including one that is equipped with an infrared camera and another that can deliver a floatation device.
"Fly over them. And once you drop it and it hits the water, CO2 cartridge in there, it's going to blow up and it's going to float up," Cavadas explained.
But to ensure it wouldn't come to that, Cavadas said beachgoers should be alert.
"I know it's easy with a lot of distractions out there. There's a lot going on with the beach and we have cell phones nowadays that we didn't have years ago. But you kind of have to put that aside when you're down there with your kids," said Cavadas.
Cavadas said beachgoers who want to stay up-to-date with flag statuses can text "Beaches" to 888777.
The nonprofit, Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, said as of June 2, 2021, there had been 32 drownings in the Great Lakes, including 15 in Lake Michigan, since the beginning of the year. Cavadas said there had been no drownings in South Haven as of July 2021. But in 2020, there were three drownings. Two of the drownings involved people who swam during rough water conditions.