Boat patrols prowling Lake Tahoe |

Boat patrols prowling Lake Tahoe

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily TribunePrepping Marina 7 on its first day of service in 2003, Douglas County Sheriff's deputies Jim Hill, left and Wesley Rice load supplies Thursday for the holiday weekend. Below, Ryan Ritchie, foreground, and Cameron Clarkson test the late spring snow conditions at Heavenly Ski Resort. Heavenly will re-open Friday for the Memorial Day weekend.

Despite three new Nevada boating laws and an expected sun-drenched Memorial Day weekend, Wes Rice believes he won’t be too busy patrolling the waters of Lake Tahoe.

Rice, a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy and 11-year boat patroller, expects the real crowds to litter the lake with vessels after schools close for the summer.

On Thursday afternoon, the deputy, echoing the procedures of other lake law enforcement, helped dock and prepare Douglas County sheriff’s boat for use. The boat may be put to the test by authorities attempting to keep boaters afloat with Nevada’s laws.

In an effort to catch up to California and 36 other states, Nevada law mandates that children under the age of 12 wear a life jacket on boats unless they’re in an enclosed cabin. The Nevada Division of Wildlife, which oversees boating safety in the state, cited a U.S. Coast Guard report that 90 percent of more than 700 people who die in boating accidents each year do not wear life preservers.

In a law not shared by California, boaters in Nevada waters who are born after Jan. 1, 1983, must complete an education course before driving a boat with a more than 15-horsepower motor.

The boating class can be done online or by mail. Applications can be obtained through the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

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Lastly, a law raised the minimum age for an individual to rent and operate a personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis and Waverunners, from 12- to 14-years-old. California has an age requirement of 16-years-old.

The law may prevent incidents such as one which occurred last summer. Unable to avoid his cousin in a game of chicken on Jet Skis, a 15-year-old boy died off Round Hill Pine Beach from internal injuries after being hit in the chest.

Mark Tschirgi, assistant manager for Zephyr Cove Marina, said insurance and business policy dictates the marina only rent to people 16-years-old or older. Those younger have to ride with an adult.

“It’s a judgment call, but in terms of liability and risk we feel that at that age they have a better comprehension of operating equipment safely,” Tschirgi said.

California water patrollers won’t enforce Nevada laws unless Nevada authorities request mutual aid, South Lake Tahoe police Sgt. Les Scott said.

Besides enforcing city and county ordinances, boat patrollers look for speeding, drunken driving and make boat inspections for life jackets, registration and fire extinguishers.

Rice, the Douglas County deputy, couldn’t recall a Memorial Day weekend that wasn’t cloudy and gusty. Temperatures for air and water are expected to be higher than last year.

Rice was told lake temperature is “just under 50” degrees Fahrenheit. The water, warmer than the usual of 44 to 47 degrees Fahrenheit, remains dangerous.

“In this lake, even in the height of summer, there is always a risk of hypothermia,” Rice said. “When people are water skiing or on Ski Doos we also recommend, it’s not a law, but recommend they have a wet suit on or are covering the trunk of the body, along with a life jacket.”

— E-mail William Ferchland at