Education key to boating safety |

Education key to boating safety

The sun is shining, the water is cool, and the boat is waiting. What better way to spend the Fourth of July weekend than on the waters of Lake Tahoe?

Most who flock to South Shore for the holiday will get just what they expect – a relaxing carefree weekend. But boating experts and law enforcement say that when it comes to a lake like Tahoe’s, what you don’t know, can hurt you.

“One fact people don’t realize or pay attention to is that they must revere the weather,” said U.S. Coast Guard Executive Petty Officer Christian Allaire. “They have this mentality that Tahoe is just like any other lake and it’s not. As the Nevada desert heats up during the day, it creates local winds. They go out in the morning when it’s beautiful and flat and then around 2 to 3 p.m. the winds pick up.”

To keep abreast of weather conditions Allaire said boaters can get updates through the U.S. Weather Service. He also recommended that all boats carry a marine VHF radio. The Coast Guard can be reached on channel 16, the international hailing and distress frequency. Even with a radio, boaters need to be able to rely on themselves first.

“We recommend that prior to launching boats people, check their safety gear. The No. 1 thing is a life jacket. Make sure it’s serviceable, it fits, and it is immediately available. When it comes to an emergency situation, you don’t want a life jacket that is still in the plastic and nobody knows how to use. It seems ridiculous, but it does happen,” Allaire said.

Another suggestion that might border on the ridiculous, but people often forget, is to check the gas gauge. It could be a costly mistake.

“If the person is not in immediate danger, we refer them to a friend or commercial towing service, just like on a highway,” Allaire said.

The heat of the day can sometimes tempt boaters to take a dip in the emerald blue waters of the lake. But unlike near the shoreline, the temperatures in the middle of the lake stay cold all year round. Allaire said swimmers can go into hypothermia and perish within 20 to 30 minutes in the colder sections.

Along with the Coast Guard, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, South Lake Tahoe Police Department, and Douglas County Sheriff’s Department will all be on patrol on the lake this weekend. All the agencies work under mutual aid agreements. Emerald Bay falls squarely in El Dorado County’s jurisdiction, so the sheriff’s department will have extra patrol in that popular spot. During the evening of July 4 the agencies will work to set a perimeter around the fireworks barge to keep boaters at least 500 feet back. El Dorado County’s “rigid inflatable boat” will be on station at Echo Lake for regular marine enforcement and emergency fire control, sheriff’s officials said.

South Lake Tahoe Police Sgt. Les Scott said in crowded July 4 conditions boaters need to be aware.

“This is the time of year when we probably have the most watercraft on the lake,” Scott explained. “We will be in a maximum enforcement period and boating laws will be strictly enforced. We need boaters to slow down, and alcohol-related offenses will be dealt with harshly.”

Representatives from all the agencies said their departments had agreed to assist the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in making people aware of the two-stroke engine ban.

Breakout box

– Most fatal boating accidents are not collisions. They occur when someone falls overboard or capsizes their boat.

– Eight out of 10 drowning victims are not wearing their life jackets.

– Almost 90 percent of fatal boating accidents involve an operator with no boating instruction.

– Information provided by U.S. Coast Guard

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