So I live in Wisconsin, and I take my motor boat out on Lake Michigan every week or so during this Summer, usually about 30 or 40 miles out. I am literally the only one out there. It's water as far as the eye can see. Anyway, I have a built on ladder and stabilizers I have been using to get back on the boat when I'm done swimming. I get out, with a life jacket on and swim around and enjoy the peace and quiet for about 20 minutes. My only concern is what happens if my boat sinks or I can't get back on it or something. I am a male of age 27,height 5"10, weigh 155 and used to swim for my high school team. Is this okay?

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    Your concern is how to get back if your boat sinks or you can't get back and you expect some random people on the Internet to tell you it's okay? I think the rational answer is for you to take precautions that this doesn't happen......or you don't go swimming that far out. And take the advice with a grain of salt. Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 1:47
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    Well, what happens if your boat sinks while you are on your boat this far out?
    – Josef
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 9:36
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    Does anyone on shore know you're out there? Is someone going to go "Hey it's 6pm, anyone seen Jim?"
    – corsiKa
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 15:44
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    Jim hasn't posted in a few weeks. Does anyone know how his last swim went?
    – user2861
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 2:46

8 Answers 8


Although swimming alone in the middle of Lake Michigan sounds wonderful and has its benefits to you, swimming alone has life altering/ending risks. The chances may be minimal that something dangerous could happen, but see my story below for an example that bad things can happen. If something did happen you don't seem to have left yourself any communication or rescue options.

Some of the risks of swimming in open water involve:

  • Drifting from your boat due to currents
  • Getting tangled with or injured by floating or submerged debris
  • Hypothermia causing impaired thinking and movements.

    When I was young and dumb, I went sailing on a Hobie Cat in the Gulf. It was hot so we all jumped off to swim. The boat took off so fast we could not catch up. Fortunately we were all excellent swimmers with Red Cross training. We were distant, but within sight of the shore. However, after swimming for over an hour, we found that the current was not letting us get closer to shore. We finally found a diagonal path that helped to drift us towards a barnacle-covered jetty. After some pretty vicious cuts we were able to get on the jetty and get to shore. Not one of my finer moments, but a good example of how a fun afternoon could unintentionally turn deadly.

The American Red Cross advises never swimming alone. I don't know if a GPS device could be of any help given your location. A buddy who stays onboard with appropriate rescue equipment while you swim would add to your safety.

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    What happened to the Hobie I wonder? Still sailing around, solving crimes?
    – Jim W
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 16:23
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    @Jim, the boat arrived on shore with no one on board. As we walked up the beach we saw a mast in the distance, sticking up above a very concerned crowd who had called the Coast Guard. Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 19:45

I've done a lot of offshore sailing and sometimes you'll get totally becalmed. Hot muggy conditions and the water is so flat you can literally shave in the reflection. It's hard not to jump in with conditions like that. Soap up, jump in, swim around the boat a few times, etc.

A very famous and accomplished sailor named Bernard Moitessier would (solo) have the boat on auto, trimmed sails and on course by itself making way. He'd toss out a few hundred feet of line with a buoy on the end and jump in, swim around, and make sure he got to the line before the buoy went past.

He was a little nuts, obviously.

The biggest thing I'd watch out for is a wind or current to pick up and scoot the boat away faster than you can get to it. If you're in the middle of a big lake you're not anchoring I imagine, so everything's adrift. A flat bottom boat won't offer up much resistance to wind gust.

If you do it, I'd consider tossing out 100' of polypro (yellow stuff, hard to tie, floats, hates the sun). One end very secured to your boat, and the other to a float that you keep near you. Try to keep yourself between the float and the boat.


It depends what you mean by okay.

If you mean "is it safe?" then the answer is simple: No, it is not safe.

If you get into trouble you stand a high risk of death. No-one will be able to rescue you.

But for the broader question of whether that means it's not okay, we can't answer that. It's up to you to assess the danger by assessing the chances of an incident happening (I would think sudden wind pulling the boat away from you is the biggest risk), your ability to recover in an emergency (by, say, swimming to shore) and how you weight the relative danger against the pleasure you derive from going swimming.


Having crossed the Pacific Ocean on our own boat, we thought a lot about questions such as this. In general I would not be concerned about swimming mid-lake, as the danger does not seem materially greater than the boat sinking mid-lake with you aboard, a risk you seem willing to accept. Obviously significant swell or wind which could blow the boat away from you quickly increases the risk of swimming over boating alone, and it should go without saying that the wisdom of what you are doing decreases as conditions worsen. I agree with Eric Kaufman's suggestion of having a floating line attached to the boat. And I was glad to read that you wear a PFD and hung a ladder to make it easier to climb back aboard -- I guess you saw Open Water 2.

That all said, you may gain peace of mind as well as a measure of safety by bringing a signaling device with you on the boat -- and on your swims. A personal locator beacon, or PLB, is a satellite messaging device with a built-in GPS that is purpose-built to alert search and rescue authorities when a person is in distress. PLBs are waterproof and small enough to clip to a PFD. Currently the world's smallest is made by Ocean Signal:


Risks are a personal matter, and my rule is that I should avoid putting others (such as search and rescue personnel) at risk due to my own refusal to accept responsibility for my actions. For me, the risk/reward assessment of what you are doing weights the scale in favor of the reward, especially when you can take simple steps to increase your own safety.


Is it safe? It's somewhat less safe than swimming alone in a backyard pool without a life jacket.

It's all about your own personal assumption of risk. You are an experienced swimmer and (presumably) experienced boater. You are swimming with a life jacket on. You have taken steps to minimize what factors you can.

There are myriad things that could go wrong, ranging from cramping to the boat drifting away in a sudden summer storm. Any of these could have implications from "ow, that really hurt" to death.

What you want us to do is tell you "yeah, go ahead, have a blast", which we can't really do. As a former competitive swimmer (17 years), I would feel perfectly fine doing exactly what you are doing, but I recognize the risks going in, and would take much the same steps as you have to minimize them as much as possible. If you like what you are doing, and don't have a problem accepting the potential downsides, I would see no reason to stop. If, however, you start feeling nervous and/or scared about what you are doing, then stop. It really is about the risk you are willing to accept to do something you enjoy.


Why not tie a rope or something to the boat and yourself? So if anything happens to the boat you'll still be connected.

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    Because then you might get pulled down to the bottom by a sinking boat. A long shot, yes, but this whole discussion is based on some very long shots :) Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 13:46
  • Well, at least they won't have trouble finding the body in that case.
    – JohnP
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 14:24

A suggestion, since you seem to prefer the quiet aspect of this, would be to find someone that enjoys floating on a boat out in the middle of nowhere with a good book or music.

They can relax on the boat and read while you swim alone. Maybe have a beer and sandwiches together. They also get a boat to hang out on, assuming they don't have one, and you get an emergency buddy if the boat gets away from you or something else happens.


No one mentioned this, but bull sharks have been spotted in Lake Michigan before... http://wgntv.com/2014/08/14/is-that-a-shark-in-lake-michigan/

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