GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Haven State Park beach has introduced a new warning flag for days like Wednesday, when water access is closed due to hazardous waves and water currents.

The park posted on its Facebook page Wednesday morning announcing that there would be some changes to the swim conditions flag system. When the water access is completely closed, there will be two red flags flying. There will also be new signs on the shoreline on double red flag days, reminding people that water access is closed.

“We looked around the country and found that a lot of oceanfront communities, National Park Services use this flag system that indicates that water access is closed,” Andrew Lundborg with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources explained.

A digital sign was set up at the state park entrance warning beachgoers of the water conditions. There were also signs and red flags lining the shore. DNR staffers drove the length of the beach throughout the afternoon ensuring swimmers did not get in the water.

“The power of that lake is very underestimated by a lot of people, and we understand everybody coming in has a different knowledge level of the power of that lake but (the flag system) is simply geared at saving lives,” Lundborg said.

Swimmers who bypass the double red flag and signage could face up to $500 in fines, according to the DNR. Lundborg said officials plan to use the fines as a last resort and will lead with education. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the DNR said it had not issued any tickets.

The new flag system comes after four people drowned at different West Michigan beaches in a single day last week.

“(Closing the beach) kind of stinks because I would probably be in this water, but I think it’s a good idea in light of how many people died,” Josh Leach said of the new system as he visited the beach Wednesday. “I get it. It’s just going to take some adjusting because when you vacation here, you have this window of time and now a day is taken away from you.”

Leach said as the father of two children, he’s always concerned for others’ safety in the water and saddened when he hears of another drowning. Other people on the beach agreed the flag change could help save lives.

“We knew this was coming down. We were here about a month ago and there was a rescue of four swimmers out here the very day we pulled into camp and people are risking their lives to save them,” said Jerry Benner, who was at the state park for vacation.

“I wonder why people aren’t learning. It’s on TV, it’s out here. What makes them think that they’re invincible? And I realize they could just be having fun and not realize but water is dangerous no matter what,” Kathy Benner said as she sat next to her husband on the beach.

Grand Haven said other Michigan State Parks with Great Lakes swimming areas will also be introducing double red flags as soon as they receive the materials. The remodeled beach warning flag system looks like this:

  • Green flag: Low Hazard: Calm conditions, exercise caution
  • Yellow flag: Medium Hazard: Moderate surf and/or currents
  • One red flag: High Hazard: High surf and/or strong currents
  • Two red flags: Water access closed

On Wednesday, Grand Haven State Park posted that it was putting the double red flags to use. As of 7:30 a.m., the water at its beach was closed to public access due to hazardous wave and water currents. It said that conditions would be evaluated throughout the day to determine if and when the beach would reopen. It will post updates on its Facebook page.

During a water closure, the park is still open for “all other normal activities,” the state park’s post said. Board sport was also allowed to continue Tuesday. Several surfers could be seen at the pier.

“This is my home. I have surfed here pretty much my entire life,” Trevor Reeths said while he took a break from the water.

Reeths said surfers usually prefer waves be at least 4 to 6 feet tall but said the water was difficult for even some surfers to navigate Wednesday.

“Lots of rip currents today. It’s a pretty south wind and that usually causes very choppy conditions and for the average person, they should probably stay out of the water,” Reeths said.

The National Weather Service issued beach hazard statements for Wednesday, citing high waves that may go over piers and strong currents. Red flags were flying at Holland State Park and South Beach in South Haven. As of mid-afternoon, South Haven police had ticketed 12 people for not obeying officers and swimming at South Beach. Each ticket carries a $1,000 fine.

The DNR said no matter what flag is flying, people on the beach should always be cautious as the lake still poses danger on the most calm water days.