With the recent news of one drowning, a near drowning and a fatal accident on Lake Tahoe, it’s a good time to talk about boating safety.
As a regular paddler on Tahoe’s east shore for the past 6 years, I’ve had many opportunities to observe speed boaters. Some are both skilled and respectful of others on the water. Unfortunately, many are neither. On Tahoe, there is a 600-foot “no wake” zone along the shoreline with a 5 mph maximum speed.
A recent Saturday morning was typical: I paddled for about an hour and witnessed 17 boats seriously speeding in the no wake zone, 14 of which were towing skiers. One was inside the buoy line and nearly swamped me when he made a U-turn 20 yards from my bow.
The next day I was on the point at Burnt Cedar Beach in Incline around 7 a.m. and watched three ski boats working the area less than 400 feet off shore (I have a shooter’s rangefinder which helps me pin down distances).
To my left was a lone kayaker and to my right two paddlers on SUPs. Both were within the wake impact of these three boats. One of the skiers was using the outer buoy line as an ad hoc slalom course. Another skier came within 50 feet of me and between the SUPs and the shore. I’m at Burnt Cedar most mornings and I see similar behavior about half the time.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife’s Boating Safety team has an aggressive enforcement program for paddlers not wearing PFDs. But I’ve never seen or heard of a case where NDOW has intervened on a speedboat operating inside the wake zone. I have asked NDOW for records of such enforcement, but they’ve declined to provide any.
While a paddler not wearing a PFD puts his or her own life at risk, wearing my PFD while paddling will do me little good it I’m hit by a speedboat. Yet, it’s a violation that anyone can observe hourly during any summer weekend off of Tahoe’s beaches, and one with a clear lack of enforcement.
Mark E. Smith