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...


Assessment of Beach Remediation Efforts at Select Lake Michigan Beaches

Gregory Kleinheinz, UW-Oshkosh, (920) 424-1100, kleinhei@uwosh.edu

Water quality at more than 30 public beaches in Door County, Wis., has been monitored under the BEACH Act since 2003, using the fecal indicator bacterium (FIB) Escherichia coli (E. coli). Although sanitary survey analyses of these beaches have been performed and several beaches have been redesigned, assessment of the effects of beach redesign on water quality has not been included. This research will assess water quality parameters (E. coli and Enterococci) during wet and dry weather at a newly redesigned Door County beach and a similar beach that has not yet been redesigned. A large historical database of FIB concentrations in beach water exists for these beaches and will be compared to post-redesign FIB concentrations. Since the U.S. EPA plans to implement rapid methods for beach water quality measurements (qPCR for Enterococci), this study also will compare Enterococci concentrations with traditional culture and molecular methods. (R/HCE-13)

A Tale of Two Beaches: Bridging the Research and Policy Gap to Improve Urban Beach Ecosystem Health

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

Milwaukee’s South Shore Beach on Lake Michigan requires major investments ($1-5 million) in order to improve water quality. The beach can serve as an excellent case study for understanding how communities can address severely degraded beaches by incorporating sound science and policy into coastal management.  In this project, we will examine the barriers to this process and fill gaps in information needed to estimate water quality improvement at South Shore Beach under different remediation scenarios. We will also work directly with stakeholders to transfer scientific information and policy recommendations to create a decision-making framework where costs can be weighed against benefits. Bradford Beach, which has benefitted from more than one million dollars in improvements, will serve as a comparison to quantify the economic value of a healthy beach ecosystem. The main outcome from this project will be development of guidance for decision making when dealing with highly degraded urban beaches that need considerable investments to make them safe and enjoyable recreational swimming beaches. (R/HCE-15)

Characterization of the Water Environment at the Apostle Islands, Lake Superior

Chin Wu, UW–Madison, (608) 263-3078, chinwu@engr.wisc.edu

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior is a treasured landscape, popular recreation area and a sensitive ecosystem. The 21 islands constitute a complex and poorly understood water environment.The investigator plans to observe and model the water environment at the Apostle Islands 1) to better understand the processes by which dangerous extreme (freak) waves are generated in popular areas of the park, 2) to identify at three spawning sites in the region a turbulence threshold that facilitates egg development and 3) to develop“nowcasting” and forecasting models to aid park managers and visitors in wisely using this resource. This limnological research study has also received support from the National Park Service at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and various citizen groups. R/SCD-3

The Wisconsin Coastal Atlas as a Foundation for Effective Spatial Decision-Support Tools Addressing Great Lakes Management

Stephen Ventura, UW–Madison, (608) 262-6416, sventura@facstaff.wisc.edu

The Wisconsin Coastal Atlas (WCA) (wicoastalatlas.net) provides access to maps, data and tools to support decision-making about the Great Lakes. It builds on many years of collaboration between Wisconsin Sea Grant and the Land Information and Computer Graphics Facility at UW-Madison to leverage sizeable investments made by local governments in land information systems and apply geospatial technologies to the sustainable management of the Great Lakes. This second phase of the WCA will incorporate satellite imagery and open-water observations in order to 1) communicate water quality trends in Green Bay, 2) reduce conflicts between recreational fishermen and trap nets in Lake Michigan, and 3) improve the safety of water sports on the Great Lakes. The project will develop and apply social-science methods to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of spatial decision support tools and establish a webinar series to promote the development of a Great Lakes Coastal Atlas Network. R/SCD-04

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...