Deadly crash a reminder to keep it safe on the lake
The boating accident that left one man dead and another seriously injured just north of Sand Harbor last Friday marks the start of what could be a very dangerous boating season on Lake Tahoe, U.S. Coast Guard and local law enforcement officials warned this week.
“People have to be more aware of the high water levels this season,” said U.S. Guard officer Joel Heinecke.
At 6228.75 feet and rising, Lake Tahoe is already within three feet of its highest recorded level.
“Rocks people saw last year will most likely be covered up this year, making them very hard to see,” said Heinecke, who warned that not all rocks and dangerous obstacles on the lake are marked by buoys.
Friday’s accident also occurred in early morning darkness.
U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla Cmdr. Dee Dee Kincade warns that boating in the dark is never advised and can be extremely dangerous.
“Never go out on the lake at night unless you’re very familiar with layout of the lake, you have working lights, a GPS (global positioning system), a compass or some way of knowing where you are at all times,” Kincade said.
Enforcement and rescue
There are eight government agencies sharing responsibility for law enforcement and emergency response on Lake Tahoe. All have patrol boats and each has a certain jurisdiction which it is responsible for.
Since the waters of Lake Tahoe are owned and controlled by the federal government, there is a contingent of the U.S. Coast Guard here, located one mile east of Tahoe City.
The Coast Guard station’s operational focus is search and rescue, and recreational boating safety and education in partnership with the five local counties and the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, the North Tahoe Fire District and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.
Drinking on the water
Ed Lynger, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife Bureau of Law Enforcement, a department with two boats and a jet ski patrolling the lake during the summer months, said drinking and boating is the bureau’s No. 1 concern.
“Drinking on boats far exceeds that of cars,” Lynger said. “People don’t realize how differently alcohol effects them on the water.”
Lynger said one beer on the water is equal to three on land.
“People aren’t used to it,” he said. “Combined with the heat and the constant motion, drinking on the water is very different than drinking at the bar.”
Of those operating boats on Lake Tahoe, Lynger said approximately 30 percent are drinking or under the influence of alcohol.
“It’s our officers’ biggest concern,” he said.
Unlike on land, Heinecke said the person operating the boat and the person navigating can be arrested for DUIs.
The legal limit on the water is .08, just like on the roadway, he said.
Education and planning
Carl Barrett, a Washoe County Sheriff’s deputy who helps coordinate the operation of the sheriff’s office rescue boat on Lake Tahoe, said basic education is the key to staying safe on the water.
“The single biggest factor is people who come out to boat and don’t have any education or background,” he said.
Barrett said before venturing out on the water, people should register with the Coast Guard in Tahoe City for a safety course.
A GPS class will be held June 24. The next boating safety course will be held on July 15.
The boating safety course costs $40 and includes a book and eight hours of instruction on safe boating practices.
“We also provide a special map with Medivac points around the lake and landmarks to tell emergency personnel your location if you’re in trouble,” said Kincade, who noted that driving a boat is just as dangerous – if not more so -than driving a car.
“I don’t think anybody should be on the water without knowing the rules of the road,” Kincade said.
In Nevada, if you’re born after Jan. 1, 1983, you must have a boating safety certificate to operate a boat.
A similar course is also available through the Nevada Department of Wildlife at http://www.ndow.org.
“Know where you’re going, how long you think it might take and how much gas you’re going to use,” said Heinecke. “And always let someone know your plans.”
Heinecke said the most common boating problem isn’t injuries or damaged vessels, but folks who have simply run out of gas.
“People don’t plan ahead,” he said.