Weather hampers start of season for boating businesses
June 4, 2011
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Scuba masks, boogie boards and other summer water toys hung next to cold-weather hats in a shop at Ski Run Marina, evidence of the twisted weather that has arrested the start of Lake Tahoe’s water season. With a cloudy, cold start to June, traffic on the lake has been slow and the boaters that are out there are urged to take special precautions.
“We refer to ourselves as ‘sports farmers,'” said captain Ron Williams, owner of boating concessions at Ski Run Marina. “Our businesses revolve around the weather.”
Colder than normal water temperatures and higher than normal water levels have California’s Department of Boating and Waterways warning mariners about the potentially dangerous conditions. Even businesses that are operating are asking customers to be especially careful.
“We’re really concerned that the snow is going to melt really fast and create some hazardous conditions for water enthusiasts, not just boaters,” said Gloria Sandoval, a spokeswoman for the department.
Boaters were scarce Friday as a bitter wind and daunting clouds whipped over the lake. The Ski Run Marina had rented one boat all day. The rest of the fleet bobbed in rows, and a poster for Riva Bar and Grill’s “Pray For Sun” party flapped nearby.
“The lake has been great,” Williams said, referring to the high water level. “We just haven’t had any sun. If it can get nice, we can recoup our losses.”
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For Kayak Tahoe, the weather has hampered rentals and increased safety concerns.
“We’re pretty much not open,” said Jeri Johnson, a staff member. “It’s been really windy. It’s not safe to send renters out.”
Kayakers who do opt to paddle should stay close to shore and wear warm clothing or a wetsuit, Johnson recommended.
Without sun, the water temperature in Lake Tahoe remains between 40 and 50 degrees. Falling in or swimming in that cold of water can present serious dangers, Sandoval said.
“The water is colder than normal,” she said. “The danger we see is people not realizing that.”
Suddenly entering cold water can produce an involuntary gasp reflex, causing the body to inhale air or water. The person can go into shock and become temporarily paralyzed, Sandoval said.
The department has already recorded 14 water-related fatalities this year in California, up from 12 the same time last year. One of this year’s deaths was due to cold water, Sandoval said.
So far this year, a chase boat has followed Ski Run Marina’s parasailing boat on every trip in case the flier comes down into the frigid water. They’re also offering complimentary wetsuits with jetski rentals.
“We don’t want anyone to be in the water more than two minutes,” Williams said.
The high water level can pose a risk to boaters. Debris that’s normally above the surface can be hidden just under water and areas that were once familiar to boaters might now appear different, Sandoval said.
Lake Tahoe’s water level currently hovers around 6228 feet above sea level. The average level is 6225 feet and the most allowable by law, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, is 6229.1 feet.
Boaters in the basin see it the level as a positive, and marinas expect it to encourage people to get out on the lake.
Earlier in the week Tahoe Keys reported most of their slips had been rented due to the high water. Kayakers will have an easier time launching. And motor boats will have less of a chance of grounding.
“The lake could possibly go all the way full,” Williams said. “That’s a very positive thing for the boating community.”