Safety first when recreating on holiday weekend at Tahoe

Lake Tahoe’s temperature is chilly and anyone venturing into the water should be prepared.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

On Memorial Day weekend, people will be traveling in droves to Lake Tahoe for the unofficial beginning of summer.

Memorial Day is a time to honor and remember U.S. military personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. It’s also a time to get away for a long weekend.

“We anticipate a large influx of visitors to the Lake Tahoe Basin this Memorial Day weekend,” said USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Public Affairs Specialist Lisa Herron. “Visitors should expect crowded roads, parking areas, trails, trailheads and recreation areas. To ensure an enjoyable weekend, plan ahead, know before your go, pack your patience, arrive early, and always recreate responsibly.”

Whether it’s boating, swimming or hiking, there are some things everyone should know in order to stay safe and not have a day of fun turn into a trip to the emergency room, or worse.

Memorial Day at Tahoe is traditionally chilly and this year it appears there will be sun, and seasonal high temperatures but also chances for thunderstorms with rain and snow, at higher elevations, possible.

Anyone recreating at Lake Tahoe should check the weather reports, especially before heading out onto the lake.

“Boating injuries can vary in nature and severity,” said Dr. Targhee Oeveraas, medical director at Barton’s Emergency Department. “On the minor end, we’ll often see slips and falls related to the boat or dock’s slippery surface or severe sunburns caused by the increased UV radiation. Each summer Barton treats boating-related traumas including propeller contact injuries and cold water immersion or hypothermia.”

Most incidents that occur each year can be avoided by doing research before heading out on the lake either by boat, jet ski or paddle board.

According to Chief Colt Fairchild, officer in charge of the United States Coast Guard Station Lake Tahoe, “All mariners should check the weather report prior to departing the dock. The National Weather Service will allow a user to check the marine forecast for any weather events in the area. Lake wind advisory, this is issued by the National Weather Service and will normally impact small boats, kayakers and paddle boarders, it is recommended that these types of vessels stay off Lake Tahoe until the weather improves.”

Besides doing your homework, it is essential that your boat is stocked with the required safety items needed in case of an emergency. This of course includes Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III, or V life jackets. Life jackets must not have any tears, rips or any signs of deterioration. Other required gear includes a whistle or other noise making devices to alert other boaters to your presence. Any type of water activity at night requires a flashlight/spotlight. Red flashing lights are viewed as a sign someone is in distress.

If operating a boat or jet ski of any kind, it is recommended taking the time to learn rescue techniques such as CPR. It can mean the difference between life and death in a matter of minutes.

Kayakers and paddle boarders might consider taking a water and paddle safety clinic from one of Lake Tahoe’s Tahoe paddle shops and outfitters.

One thing that should always be at the top of mind when it comes to Lake Tahoe, is that it is cold all year round. So occurrences of hypothermia and cold water shock are common. Hypothermia can set in water that is 70 degrees. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, blue-color on lips or skin and drowsiness.

South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue Captain Kim George, a paramedic and registered nurse, said, “Rapid skin cooling initiates an immediate gasp response, the inability to breath-hold and hyperventilation. The gasp response may cause drowning if the head is submersed during the initial entry into cold water. The inability to breath-hold will drown the person. Sudden death can occur either immediately or within a matter of minutes after immersion.”

Outside of wind and weather advisories, accidents can generally be avoided by following the rules of the lake. Besides wearing your life jackets at all times, and making sure any children in your care wear their life jackets, don’t drink while operating a boat.

Dr. Oeveraas added that, “Alcohol is the biggest contributing factor to boating accidents; which is exacerbated by sun and high altitude.”

The US Coast Guard reports alcohol is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, accounting for over 100 deaths, or 18% of total fatalities in 2020.

Other violations include ignoring no wake zones and buoys.

“No wake means no wake,” George said. “If the boat is traveling at a speed that is producing a wake, they will need to slow down. This is mandated so that boats in slips are not damaged in docks and the docks remain steady. If there is a wake, someone standing on a dock could be knocked off and into the water. Stay between the buoys and keep the red buoy on the right.”

Also, areas marked with white buoys indicate underwater obstructions that can damage the hull of the boat. These white buoys should be kept between the vessel and the shoreline.

To help keep boaters up to date on the rules and regulations, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency recently released a free app that includes interactive maps for boaters and paddlers. The free Tahoe Boating app is available from online app stores or the TRPA’s website

The Coast Guard also has an app that is available both on Apple and Android that has “Rules of the Road” and other helpful information for mariners.

These rules and regulations are put into place for your safety, and the safety of other boaters sharing the lake.

“Station Lake Tahoe responds to approximately 75-120 search and rescue cases each year, with 95% of those cases occurring during the months of May through September,” Fairchild said.

Knowing what to do in an emergency situation will give you the advantage in saving either your own life or someone else’s.

People enjoy the beach this week at Lakeview Commons in South Lake Tahoe.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

Most National Forest beaches and campgrounds at Lake Tahoe opened in mid-May, but some backcountry campgrounds, recreation sites, forest gates and forest roads are still closed. Check opening dates on the LTBMU Recreation Conditions Report. Forest gates and forest roads and are in the process of opening. Check opening dates on the LTBMU Motor Vehicle Use Maps.

The Tallac Historic Site and Taylor Creek Visitor Center officially open on June 2, but the grounds are open. Until these sites fully open, some services such as restrooms and trash removal are unavailable so be sure to plan ahead and pack out all trash.

Campfires, Charcoal and Fireworks

Visitors are reminded to do their part to prevent wildfires. If you see something, say something by reporting illegal activity to 911 immediately.

National Forest lands at Lake Tahoe are under year-round fire restrictions. Wood and charcoal fires are only permitted within provided metal fire rings and grills in open, developed campgrounds. Unless restricted, propane stoves and appliances with on/off valves are allowed with a valid CA Campfire Permit.

All types of personal use fireworks are illegal in the Lake Tahoe Basin because of the wildfire danger they pose to our communities. Please do Lake Tahoe forests a favor and leave fireworks at home.


Lake Tahoe is bear country. Help keep Tahoe bears wild by properly securing food, garbage, and other scented items. Never approach bears or cubs, always keep your distance. Don’t feed bears or other wildlife, it’s illegal. Feeding wildlife encourages them enter human occupied areas to seek out human food and garbage and disturbs their natural feeding habits.

Caldor Fire Area

Recreationists should use caution when recreating in the Caldor Fire area. Burned landscapes present numerous safety hazards that either did not exist prior to the fire or have been worsened by the effects of the fire.

Leave No Trace

Trash and debris left behind can be harmful and even fatal to wildlife. It represents a human health hazard and degrades Lake Tahoe. Every year volunteers pick up thousands of pounds of trash left behind after holiday weekends. Plan ahead and bring a trash bag in case trash cans and dumpsters are full or not or not available. Become part of the solution. Pack out your own garbage. Learn more about Leave No Trace Principles at

Sara Jackson is a freelance writer for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun

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