Boating education should be mandatory for renting at Tahoe (Opinion)
On Sunday, Aug. 16, myself and one of my captains saved someone, potentially two people, from drowning in Lake Tahoe and possibly a third from being killed by a boat propeller.
This was a situation that could have been easily avoided if there was proper education and training when renting a boat at Tahoe. Visitors to Tahoe don’t realize that the lake is extremely dangerous. People drown here all the time. Sometimes they are recovered, sometimes they aren’t.
If visitors don’t know that, it’s because the focus is on having fun and enjoying the lake. The focus is on tourism, not on scaring you with the truth of what a ‘fun day on the lake’ might actually turn into. Two people drowned just recently.
I cannot explain to you how heartbreaking it is listening to the Coast Guard tell you they are looking for a missing boater which they repeat every five minutes or so on the radio … and then they call the search off without finding the individual.
Sunday night around 7 p.m., we encountered a man that was drowning off his rental pontoon boat from one of the marinas, his wife was trying to save him, he was taking her with him. They were flailing and completely panicking. There were about a dozen people on the boat and none knew how to swim. A third jumped in the water to try to help, meanwhile, the boat operator had the prop lifted completely out of the water attempting to back up into all three.
While we’re attempting to save the two in the water, we’re yelling to the operator to shut the boat off, so he doesn’t decapitate the third. He had zero clue of how to operate a boat. It seems as long as you are 18 years old and have a credit card, you can rent and operate a boat. You are given minimal information, such as where the life jackets are, how to turn on the radio, how to go forward, how to reverse and then tell you to be back at a specified time. That’s it.
Thankfully, we were able to get all three people on our boat, we warmed them up, hydrated them (they didn’t have any water on their boat) and got them safely back to their pontoon rental … which was a challenge in itself as the boat operator nearly rammed our vessel trying to get close to us.
They had thrown all their PFD’s into the water for their friends and these PFD’s are now strewn through Emerald Bay with no hope of being recovered by these folks, nor did they have any left in case of another mishap.
Their boat is now safely at a distance from us, except one of their dock lines was wrapped around their prop. We yelled, “Do not turn on your boat.” We had to coach the wife from a distance, the only sort of swimmer out of all them, on how to put her PFD on properly, get back in the water and unwrap the line.
When they exited Emerald Bay, they headed the complete opposite direction from their marina.
Why the first person entered the water not knowing how to swim without a PFD is beyond my understanding, but I believe education would have eliminated this situation.
As a commercial boat owner and operator, we are on the lake more than most and we see bad boating decisions and careless operators every day. This is not the first person that we’ve had to save on the lake and I’m assuming this won’t be the last.
I want everyone that visits Tahoe to know the lake and boating is dangerous. This lake is cold, it’s deep and is not your hometown lake.
This needs to be the mission of the tourism department, Tahoe South, Tahoe North, Tahoe Chamber, city of South Lake Tahoe, park rangers, the small businesses that rent boats, jet skis, paddle boards and kayaks and all of us that interact with our visitors.
California requires boat owners to have a ‘Boaters Card’ but does not require the same of a person renting a boat – those who are the least experienced. I’m proposing that we take action on a local level to increase awareness, the training to rent a vessel on our lake, which in turn will make the lake safer for all of us. If we can promote ‘masking up’ via Take Care Tahoe, lets promote and create awareness for something that has been, and always will be, a major issue here — water safety.
Diondra Colquhoun is a South Lake Tahoe resident
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