Lifesaving station advises caution in the water

May 7, 2014

by Käri Knutson

Photo: UW lake lifesaving station

Crew members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Lifesaving Station Haley Perrin (left) and Steven Read (right) keep watch over Lake Mendota from the station's lookout tower in June 2012.

Photo:

As the weather begins to get warmer, the UW Lifesaving Station is reminding people of the lake’s potential dangers and encouraging all of those enjoying the water to use caution.

Tips for staying safe in the water

Swimming in a natural body of water is different from swimming in a pool. More skills and energy are required for natural water environments because of variable and changing conditions, and water quality can be very poor. Look for local signage about warnings or prohibited activities. Never swim alone or after using alcohol.Never swim at night. Rescues in the dark are nearly impossible.

Whenever you are near or in a natural water environment, look out for:

  • Unexpected changes in air or water temperature. The lifesaving station monitors current lake conditions such as wind speed and direction, and air and water temperature. It also provides a local weather forecast.
  • Hazards, which can include items below the water which you cannot see, such as rocks, weeds or dangerous debris. Aquatic life, such as vegetation, can entangle feet or make swimming difficult.
  • Sudden lake bottom drop-offs that can rapidly change water depth.
  • Other people's activities in the same waters, such as boats, canoes, rowers, sailboards, etc. They may not be aware of swimmers in a non-designated area.
  • Know who to call in the event of an emergency. Call 911 for the fastest and best response.

The lifesaving station maintains a seasonal lake watch on Lake Mendota from April through October. Student lifeguards staff the union swim pier from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Lifeguard hours at the swim pier are from 11 a.m. to sunset seven days a week. More than 20,000 people visit the pier each year.

Off-season, November through March, the Lake Safety Station is officially closed but the boats are maintained for rescue or dispatch until the lake freezes or the water levels become too low for boat launch. A regular watch is not maintained during the winter, but staff keep a periodic watch on lake activities.

Last year, new signs were installed in an effort to raise safety awareness. Some of the signs advise the hours a lifeguard is on duty, areas where there isn’t a lifeguard on duty and where docking of privates boats isn’t allowed.

The lifesaving station was established in 1909 to provide a lake rescue service to UW-Madison students while they enjoy Lake Mendota. On Lake Mendota, it provides patrols and maintains watch along university shorelines that include the Lake Safety boathouse to the north side of Picnic Point.