Boating Lake Tahoe: Everything you need to know about the summer season
June 12, 2011
LAKE TAHOE – Put away the anchor, unfurl the spinnaker and someone man the helm – boating season on Lake Tahoe looks to get into full swing this weekend under a backdrop of sunny skies and mild temperatures.
The National Weather Service in Reno forecasts high temperatures in the mid- to upper-60s into early next week, presenting the first mild weekend of the boating season, so it appears those with a penchant for nautical adventures of all varieties can satiate their waterlust on Lake Tahoe.
The famed water body, known widely as the “Jewel of the Sierra,” can accommodate motorboaters with a need for speed, leisurely sailors out for a relaxing jaunt on the waters or those who prefer to man their own kayaks and canoes.
However, Lake Tahoe officials are committed to protect the lake from the threat of overuse, pollution, environmental degradation and aquatic invasive species and have implemented a rigorous boat inspection program.
Boaters are asked to exercise a little patience and cooperation with inspectors who are trying to keep potentially destructive forces out of the lake’s unique but fragile ecosystem.
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The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is one of the main agencies responsible for protecting Tahoe’s environment. Fears about the potential invasion of zebra and quagga mussels are increasing in the American West, after the environmentally detrimental species established a stronghold in Lake Mead in Southern Nevada in 2008 and procreated at an alarming rate.
The mussels have become a large problem in the Great Lakes area, attaching to intake and outtake pipes, costing lakeside industries millions of dollars annually, while wreaking havoc on native species in the ecosystem.
Ted Thayer, Wildlife Program Manager for TRPA, said while the invasive mussels are a prominent reason for the agency’s inspection policies, other species are causing concern.
“New Zealand mud snails and plants such as hydrilla are on our radar screen,” Thayer said. “The threat is imminent.”
None of these species have had the catastrophic impact zebra and quagga mussels have wrought on waterways in the Great Lakes regions, but they could set the stage for dramatic environmental consequences in the future.
In order to fund the ongoing inspections of boats, the TRPA has established a fee for boaters based on the size of the vessel, the horsepower of the engine and whether the boat is used exclusively in Lake Tahoe. For a full listing of fees visit trpa.org.
Aquatic invasive species are usually transported from one body of water to another via watercraft. So, it is important for boaters to provide inspectors with factual information regarding which water bodies into which their boat had previously launched.
Last year, a 29-year-old Los Angeles resident was fined $5,000 for evading a inspector-mandated decontamination by providing false information regarding the last lake his boat had navigated. TRPA is considering enhancing fines and penalties for boaters who willfully mislead inspectors.
Boaters receive an inspection seal upon a successful completion of a lakeside inspection, conducted by the Tahoe Resource Conservation District at various roadside stations. Those who tamper with such seals will also be subject to fines and penalties.
Despite generally safe conditions afforded by Lake Tahoe, boaters need to be prepared for dangerous situations. When out in the water, individuals should ensure their vessel is equipped with the safety equipment required by federal law.
Such items include lifejackets, fire extinguishers, a whistle, a bell or horn, a visual distress signal or flare, a ventilation duct allowing for proper ventilation of inboard gasoline engines and a backfire flame arrestor for inboard engines.
Lake Tahoe has many underwater hazards, such as boulders or piles of rocks, which may emerge as lake levels drop. Most of the obstructions are marked by the U.S. Coast Guard with white buoys, which should be kept between the boat and the shore. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides a map where the hazards are clearly marked
Wind can be a deceptive problem for sailors on the waters of Lake Tahoe. Abrupt gusts of high intensity are sufficient to capsize small watercraft. Mornings, in particular, can produce deceptively calm conditions. In the event of sudden wind gusts, head for protective harbors until conditions improve. Also, consult detailed weather forecasts before heading out.
Alcohol is a significant cause of many boating related accidents, injuries and fatalities.
“Drinking while operating a boat presents the same dangers that drinking while driving a car does,” said Levi Read, spokesman for the United States Coast Guard. “It’s important to identify a designated driver to avoid breaking the law.”
Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a federal offense punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and one year in prison.
Lake Tahoe is an alpine lake, which means its water temperature is cool year round, making it conducive to hypothermia for those exposed to sudden immersion, rendering self-rescue in such cases difficult if not impossible Tahoe’s temperature necessitates wearing a lifejacket when out on the water.