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The City of Racine’s coastline is nestled next to Lake Michigan. North Beach, 100 Kewaunee St., and Zoo Beach, located just north of it, are utilized for water recreation, especially during the summer months.

Lake Michigan poses a threat to local swimmers and beachgoers. Problems with safe water quality levels and currents have resulted in drownings and critical emergencies in the past. To ensure that the safety of community members and tourist are met, new water safety initiatives and equipment are being implemented.

To prevent accidents and promote safer beaches, Racine County, the City of Racine, the Racine Fire Department, the Racine County’s Sheriff’s Department, the Racine County Dive Team, Racine’s lifeguard program, Racine Unified School District and STEM 101 are officially launching extra opportunities to combat water safety emergencies from occurring.

County Executive Jonathan Delagrave (center, yellow shirt) and Mayor Cory Mason (right) check out the new equipment before speaking. – Credit: Emma Widmar

“Our jurisdiction here in the city is looking out to the water’s edge, the county’s jurisdiction is into the water and breakwater.”

City of Racine Mayor Cory Mason

Water safety technology and initiatives

Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said, “We’re not declaring victory, but we are declaring that we’ve taken it (water safety) very seriously.”

The partnership between these organizations will bring Racine County the following equipment, technology, and enhancements:

  • A camera
    • A camera is located on North Beach, close to the breakwater and the Racine Yacht Club
    • Provides authorities with a wide-angle view of the beach
    • In the case of emergencies, law enforcement can use the camera footage to review what incidents have occurred
  • Improved signageNotifies and informs citizens if the water quality is safe
    • Signage is connected to the National Weather Service to serve as a visual tool to determine the current danger of Lake Michigan
  • New technology and equipment
    • Drone systems will help deliver rescue sticks or self-inflation buoys
    • Remote-control buoys will be used, driving out at high speeds to individuals who may be in distress
    • Racine County Sherriff’s department’s patrol boat and small zodiac boat will soon receive upgraded sonar systems
    • Racine County Sherriff’s department will soon receive new rapid response jet skis in order to respond to critical incidents in a quicker manner
    • Racine County Sherriff’s department’s patrol boat is now docked at the Racine Yacht Club rather than located at the marina to ensure quicker response to water-related emergencies
New signage and warning lights are part of the system. –
Drones and other types of equipment are part of the innovative strategies and techniques that will be incorporated into rescue efforts on Lake Michigan. – Credit: Emma Widmar
  • Enhanced lifeguard training
    • Lifeguards at North Beach and Zoo Beach are provided with extensive and reoccurring training directed by the Racine Fire Department and Racine County Sheriff’s Department
    • Lifeguards are provided with radio equipment that directly communicates with local authorities, as opposed to the use of cell phones
  • Educational videos

The pandemic’s role in delayed equipment

Captain Brad Friend speaks on the new equipment and water safety measures being launched. – Credit: Emma Widmar

“The Racine County Sheriff’s Office has an active drone team program and these items can be used today,” Captain Brad Friend from Racine County Sheriff’s Office said.

However, due to supply chain problems and delays, the remote control boats and buoys are on backorder. These are hoped to arrive within a month. The two jet skis that will be used by the Racine County Dive Team are also experiencing delays in shipment. Captain Friend estimates they will arrive in the near future.

The costs of added safety programs, protocols

This investment in the continued safety of Racine County is estimated to be around $150,000 from the county. The City of Racine has an estimated cost of around $150,000 spent on the project as well. This price has included the cost of technology and even the raising of local lifeguards’ wages. Costs may fluctuate depending on future upgrades and advancements.

“We feel that’s a pretty reasonable price for county taxpayers to pay to mitigate potential drownings,” Delagrave stated.

Beyond Lake Michigan

These resources are available for use at Lake Michigan, but are also to be used county-wide.

“The drones are located in various parts of the county,” Friend said. “The dive team has one in their command vehicle, we have one that’s gonna be stationed at the law enforcement center. And then we have a number of them out at our patrol station and command car.”

At a moment’s notice, drones can be on the scene of an emergency and fly from a distance to help those in need. North Beach will have a dedicated remote control boat or buoy. Likewise, there will be one at Zoo Beach. The boat patrol unit and the dive team will have access to these devices.

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Doing your part

“We still need people to follow the rules,” Mason directed. “This helps us mitigate the drownings that might occur but we still need people to listen and follow the safety instructions that are there. If it’s a dangerous undertow, it is not safe to be in the water. We really need people to participate.”

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