Around the South Shore hulls are being scrubbed, drain plugs are being screwed in tight, crew members are being interviewed and boats are being plunked in the water. Once again, it’s boating season at Lake Tahoe.
“A lot of what we’re doing right now is making sure everything is as good as we left it,” said Ted Moorhead, general manager of Ski Run Boat Company. “The majority of what we do is get the boats in the water and see that they’re equipped with everything they need for Coast Guard inspection.”
Between Easter and Memorial Day, marinas in South Lake Tahoe are busy with the preparations it takes to maintain fleets of dozens of rental boats, jet skis and other vessels. Many private boaters, eager to get a jump on the season, have already passed through inspection and slipped their boats in the water. And the Coast Guard is keeping a watchful eye for early season accidents.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s been overly busy, but we’ve definitely seen the traffic pick up,” said Nicole Cartwright, a spokeswoman for Tahoe Resource Conservation District, which operates the boat inspections. “As soon as the stations opened up, we had people show up right on May 1.”
Out at Camp Richardson over the weekend, workers patched a small leak in the lengthy charter catamaran. Mooring balls, empty through the winter, had boats swinging in the current.
Over at Ski Run Marina Wednesday, the charter yacht was having its bottom scrubbed. Crew shined the motorboat fleet and buttoned on the boats’ covers. Fishing charters, which operate all year, came and went.
Ski Run Boat Company manages a fleet of 57 rental boats, 32 jet skis, 30 kayaks, 12 paddleboards, 12 paddleboats and a pair of parasail boats. Out on a picnic table near the harbor, interviews with potential fleet managers were being conducted.
“Everyone we hire at the beginning gets a good thorough lesson on what it takes to operate a boat and how to be safe on the lake,” Moorhead said.
Accident statistics released
Both the number of boating accidents and the number of boating deaths in California fell last year, according to statistics released by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard released the data on nationwide recreational boating accidents for 2012 on May 13. The report details the types of accidents, the cause of accidents and number of boating deaths.
Over the last 15 years, the number of reported boating accidents nationwide has dropped steadily from 8,047 in 1997 to 4,515 in 2012. The number of deaths associated with recreational boating has fallen from 821 in 1997 to 651 in 2012.
In California, the number of accidents in 2012 reached a five-year low at 365, down from a high of 520 in 2008. Deaths dropped from 52 in 2011 to 49 in 2012.
Marinas in Lake Tahoe are taking precautions against early season accidents by providing wet suits with jet ski rentals and requiring life jacket use.
“We’ve got to be very careful because of the water temperature. It’s still pretty cold,” Moorhead said. “We want our customers to be aware that the cold water can create a dangerous scenario if not respected.”
It’s unclear if the lower number of accidents correlates to the drop in boater registrations, said Gloria Sandoval, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Boating and Waterways.
California boat registrations continue downward trend
Though there’s a boating buzz around Lake Tahoe, California continues to have fewer and fewer boats being registered.
At 776,584, California’s boat registrations saw their lowest point since 1990 last year, according to data released by the California Department of Boating and Waterways.
Sandoval expects the number to rise next year because of California’s two-year registration cycle, but she does acknowledge the downward trend in motorized boat use.
“There are a lot of boaters that haven’t registered in time for the DMV to capture that information,” she said.
Sandoval expects the 2013 number to be closer to the 2011 total, which was about 75,000 more than 2012. Though motorized boat use is declining, there still are a lot of people out on the waterways, enjoying the outdoors, she said.
“What we have seen that with the non-motorized vessels, there’s a lot more of new boaters out there on the waterways,” she said.
The statewide downward trend does not appear to have affected Lake Tahoe, according to numbers released by the Tahoe Resource Conservation District. About 15,300 vessels entered Lake Tahoe, about 400 more than the previous year. Though the number of new inspections has gone down, the number of “Tahoe Only” stickers has increased, Cartwright said.
“Throughout the last four-and-a-half years of data collection, we’ve seen it fluctuate but, by all means, (the number of boats) has not gone down,” Cartwright said. “I think that’s a good thing for our local economy. Even with the implementation of this program, we’re still a destination that people want to come to.”