Water Sports Safety

With over 15,000 lakes and 6oo,ooo registered boats, Wisconsin hosts a great variety of activities on, around and under the water.  Many people enjoy water sports as part of a healthy, active lifestyle, and these activities often involve whole families recreating together.  While hundreds of thousands of hours are spent safely engaging in the many water-related activities, accidents, injuries and deaths do occur each year as well. Maximizing your safety while involved in water sports involves knowledge of the risks and how to avoid or minimize them.  Wisconsin Sea Grant, in cooperation with state and national organizations, provides access to the needed knowledge.




Another Safety Measure in Place for Apostle Island Sea Cave Kayakers
The SeaCavesWatch.org real-time wave observation system for the mainland sea caves at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior just got even more useful. Kayakers can just press a big red button to access the web site, which provides photos and data about conditions at the sea caves, before they venture out. Read more...

Swimming and Beach Safety

Beach Safety
With miles of picturesque sand beaches on Great Lakes and inland waters, a relaxing day on the shore is never far away.  Enjoying the water safely involves knowledge of the environment, a bit of vigilant attention to the potential dangers, and, if possible, an update on current conditions. Read more...

Rip Currents
Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes. Rip currents can be killers. In 2012, there were more than 90 rip-current-related deaths. Read more...

Waves Types and How They Form
Learn more about the various types of waves lapping a shoreline, how they form and how some can be hazardous. Read more...

Milwaukee County Beaches
From June through October, get accurate and timely information about the beach, nearshore and weather conditions at the many public beaches within the Milwaukee County Parks system. Read more...

Get Current Great Lakes Conditions
The National Weather Service provides information on Great Lakes water temperature, air temperature, wind speed, and forecasts. Read more...

Boating Safety

There are three important factors in every safe boating experience -- knowledge, common sense and courtesy.  Every boater needs to have a basic knowledge of the traffic rules on the water, of the necessary safe practices and of the required and recommended equipment.  Taking a safe boating course, or perhaps repeating a course, is the best way to ensure that you are up to date, and that unsafe habits haven't been developed.  Common sense regarding boating safely is developed through personal experience and modeling your practices on others whom you consider to be safe boaters.  And courtesy -- that's something we all need practice at all times, not just on the water. Read more...

Get Current Water and Wind Conditions
The National Weather Service provides information on Great Lakes water temperature, air temperature, wind speed, and forecasts. Read more...

Paddle Sports

Safety at the Apostle Islands Sea Caves
In July 2011, UW Sea Grant researchers, with funding from other sources as well, announced a new website that aggregates wave conditions in Lake Superior in and around the very popular Apostle Islands National Lakeshore sea caves. Improved kayaker safety is the goal. Visit seacaveswatch.org.

Watch out for Electric Barriers
Warning signs about the electrical barrier near Romeoville, Ill., can be difficult to see from the water, but the barriers can be very dangerous to paddlers. Read more...

Recreational activities that use paddle craft -- vessels without motors -- such as canoes, kayaks, rafts, and stand-up paddleboards are enjoyed by a growing number of American boaters.  In 2008, nearly 18 million people participated, averaging 10 trips each.  As popularity increases, the number of  fatalities is increasing and at a faster rate than for boating activities generally.  All small boats, including paddlecraft, rely on the proper positioning of the occupants for stability.  Proper instruction and practice in less hazardous conditions are important in preparing to take part in paddlesport activities. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and many other organizations offer courses that will get the paddler prepared. Read more...

Check out Current Great Lakes Conditions
The National Weather Service provides information on Great Lakes water temperature, air temperature, wind speed, and forecasts. Read more...

Boating Safety Courses

Take a Safety Course
Many organizations, most notably the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadron, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, offer courses on safe boating.  Courses are available in the traditional classroom format as well as in an online format.  Many of these courses meet the mandatory education requirements for Wisconsin boaters.  Information on available courses can be found at the following links.

Wisconsin DNR
U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
U.S. Power Squadron


This page offers a description of the condition and how to deal with it. Read more...


Diving Safety
Take precautions while scuba diving.


Increasing Safety at Sea Caves
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has become a world-class destination for sea kayaking, but some of the most popular attractions can also be treacherous. This video describes a system designed to warn kayakers about dangerous waves. Read more...

Integrating Great Lakes Data from Distributed Sources: David Hart
A presentation by David Hart at the meeting of the Great Lakes section of the International Coastal Atlas Network, Sept. 13-15, 2010, Madison, Wis. Read more...


Characterizing and Forecasting Dangerous Currents on the South Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota and Wisconsin

Chin Wu, UW-Madison, (608) 263-3078, chinwu@engr.wisc.edu
Lian Shen, University of Minnesota, (612) 625-7527, shen@umn.edu
Jesse Schomberg, University of Minnesota
Jerald Henneck, University of Minnesota
Todd Breiby, Wisconsin Coastal Management Program
Gene Clark, Wisconsin Sea Grant
Deidre Peroff, Wisconsin Sea Grant
Richard Axler, University of Minnesota

Dangerous currents in Lake Superior have been responsible for deaths and many rescues, yet no forecasts are available that cover the entire coastline. To address this issue, researchers plan to characterize and forecast dangerous currents and build a collaborative community on the Minnesota-Wisconsin south shore of Lake Superior. Characterization of dangerous currents will be conducted using remote sensing analysis, field measurements and cross-scale modeling, which will improve understanding the mechanisms of generating dangerous currents. Forecasts of dangerous currents will be provided through an Integrated Nowcast – Forecast Operational System (INFOS) for Dangerous Currents in Lake Superior, which integrates real-time water observations and a high-fidelity nearshore circulation model to predict real-time (nowcast) and future (forecast) information of dangerous currents. Lastly, a collaborative framework for dangerous current watches, warnings and advisories will be built through outreach and education, and coordination and communication. Jointly funded with Minnesota Sea Grant. R/RCE-09

Population Structure and Genetic Markers of Persistent Escherichia coli in Beach Sand

Sandra McLellan, UW-Milwaukee, (414) 382-1700, mclellan@uwm.edu

In this project, genomics meets beach management as we take an innovative approach to answering the complex question of what is causing elevated levels of Escherichia coli at Wisconsin’s beaches. Fecal indicator bacteria E. coli and enterococci are harmless organisms meant to demonstrate that enteric pathogens may be present; however, they have been found to persist in beach sand, which can greatly influence water quality results. We hypothesize that E. coli in the sand are genetically distinct strains that have genomic traits that allow them to survive outside of the host. We will use host-specific alternative indicators to assess sewage and gull, dog and ruminant fecal pollution and distinguish recent pollution events from E. coli and enterococci prolonged survival. We will employ a combination of field- and laboratory-based experiments to characterize E. coli populations and use cutting-edge genomic tools to identify genes linked to functional pathways responsible for prolonged survival. R/HCE-29


Marine Debris and Great Lakes Ghost Nets
Marine debris is a growing issue in the Great Lakes. Research is needed to understand the biotic impacts of microplastics, and outreach is needed on the impacts of marine debris on stakeholders and biota. Building on past work with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and Apostle Islands Sportfishermen’s Association, continued work on preventing and removing ghost nets is needed.

Related Publications

Visit Our Publications Store
For print and downloadable information about boating and water sports safety, see our online publications store. Read more...

Related Websites

Wisconsin Coastal Guide

Get down to the Water! The Great Lakes Circle Tour leads you around the largest freshwater system on the planet—this site shows you where to pull off the Wisconsin highway to explore a hidden lighthouse, enjoy a panoramic scenic view and more.

Wisconsin's Water Library
Established in 1964 by the UW Water Resources Institute, Wisconsin's Water Library (formerly known as the Water Resources Library) is unique among UW-Madison's many libraries for its collection of almost 30,000 volumes of water-related information about the Great Lakes and the waters of Wisconsin. The library includes a curriculum collection, dozens of educational videos, a children's collection, and more than 20 journals and 100 newsletters. Read more...