Memorial Day is the first busy boating weekend in California and with it comes a slough of preventable accidents. The U.S. Coast Guard is urging boaters entering Lake Tahoe to be cautious.
Between the cold water and collisions, boaters are susceptible to a number of hazards in Lake Tahoe’s early season waters. But boaters can take precautions to reduce the risk.
“Boater education is always good,” said Executive Petty Officer Travis Fraser, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard Station Lake Tahoe. “Take the time to look at your boat, go over it and look at the engine, especially if you haven’t used it in a while. Make sure you have your life jackets and your safety equipment.”
One of the biggest dangers of early-season boating is the temperature of the water, which can be shockingly cold to those jumping off their boats for a swim, Fraser said. Lake Tahoe has had numerous drowning deaths due to cold water.
“You hit that cold water and if you’re not ready for it, you can go into a panic,” Fraser said. “That interrupts your normal breathing and you can start taking on water. It’s easy to drown.”
Some marinas in Lake Tahoe are taking precautions against cold water accidents by providing wet suits with jet ski rentals and requiring life jacket use in rental boats.
“We’ve got to be very careful because of the water temperature. It’s still pretty cold,” said Ted Moorhead, general manager of Ski Run Boat Co. in South Lake Tahoe. “We want our customers to be aware that the cold water can create a dangerous scenario if not respected.”
Also with the jump in boating activity, collisions, both with other vessels and obstacles, become a significant danger.
“Another thing we’ve had a number of boat collisions with over the years are rocks,” Fraser said. “People operating in unfamiliar areas, don’t realize that the water may look deep but it’s not. Operating at a high rate of speed and colliding with a rock would cause the occupants of the boat to be ejected or thrown against the inside of the boat, which would cause severe trauma.”
Keeping a good lookout and slowing down in unfamiliar or high-traffic areas can prevent collisions, Fraser added.
Also to prevent mishaps, boaters should thoroughly inspect their craft or have it inspected by the Coast Guard to ensure that it is safe for use before putting it in the water.
Other dangers include boating under the influence, which was the single biggest contributing factor in fatal boating accidents last year, according to the Coast Guard. Patrols from several agencies on the water will be on the lookout for intoxicated boaters, Fraser said.
“We’re always looking for signs that someone may be boating under the influence,” he said. “As the holiday weekend approaches, that’s something that’s always on the back of our mind.”