Boating safety a concern over Tahoe Memorial weekend
Law enforcement agencies are bracing for a busy summer boating season with the return of higher water levels at Lake Tahoe.
“We expect to see a lot more people out on the water,” Nevada Department of Wildlife chief game warden Tyler Turnipseed said in a press release. “With more boaters, we don’t want to see more incident accidents, so we’re being proactive with our boating safety and enforcements.”
In advance of Memorial Day weekend and as part of National Safe Boating week, the City of South Lake Tahoe, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and other local agencies are reminding the public that the region’s largest body of water presents a unique set of safety concerns.
“It’s pretty dangerous,” said Brian Williams, local U.S. Coast Guard public affairs officer, referring to especially cold water temperatures this time of year. “It’s a lot colder now than it’s going to be in August.”
With current surface temperatures around 60 degrees, Williams said that early stages of hypothermia can set in within 20 minutes.
According to a Coast Guard safety pamphlet, a person’s body loses heat 32 times faster in cold water than in colder air and swimming can become increasingly challenging within three minutes of falling in the water. Survival time is also significantly lower when temperatures are 60 degrees or colder.
Last year the lake saw three fatal accidents, according to NDOW.
In an effort to address safety, Douglas County is commissioning a new patrol boat starting this year.
“We’ve seen a lot more people up at Lake Tahoe, and we feel strongly that we need to be there to protect the public and enforce boating laws,” county sheriff Ron Pierini said.
Federal law requires all watercraft to have the appropriate number of Coast Guard approved life jackets at all times.
Paddleboards and kayaks also fall under that regulation. Emergency inflatable life jackets are among acceptable personal floatation devices (PFDs) frequently used by paddleboarders.
While children under the age of 13 are required to wear the vests, Williams also recommends older youth and adults wear them while recreating.
According to national data, around 85 percent of drowning victims were not wearing life jackets at the time of their death.
“We encourage people to wear them,” Williams said, especially given cold water conditions.
While not currently required, paddleboard leashes are also recommended. People who fall off their boards can be easily separated from them due to wind and waves, making retrieval difficult and water exposure more of a concern.
Law enforcement officials remind boaters that alcohol is frequently involved in incidents and boat drivers can be cited for driving under the influence.