Know before you go: water safety tips to keep in mind while boating on Lake Tahoe | SierraSun.com

Know before you go: water safety tips to keep in mind while boating on Lake Tahoe

As eager as people are to get out on the water and carve turns through the boat wake, it's important to remember that water is an incredibly powerful force of nature, which requires preparedness.

"People need to keep in mind it's a big lake full of cold water. The wind can pick up, the waves can pick up, and that can turn disastrous, quickly," said Tom Lotshaw, public information officer of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

"We would encourage everybody to wear their lifejackets, make sure they're experienced enough with paddling or boating to go out on such a big lake, and be mindful of the wind and weather and water conditions — certainly no boating while intoxicated," he said.

Local Coast Guard Auxiliary member, Bruce Thee, urges to bear in mind the top five causes people run into issues on the water, in hopes that boaters will continue to make smart decisions and have the reaction time needed in the event that danger arises.

"The first three rules," Thee said, "should be wear a life vest, wear a life vest, and wear a life vest."

One longtime Lake Tahoe boater, Roger Huff, is a former Navy oceanographer and marine meteorologist. He too is looking to raise awareness of water, and especially wake safety in an attempt to reduce motorized and non-motorized vessels from capsizing this summer.

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"It's rather easy to give advice from within a safe harbor, while true friends will help steer your rickety vessel safely through life's dangerous waters," he said.

"Accidents are often a result of somebody's mistake, so don't let the next one be yours. Safety starts between your ears."

1. Wear a Life Vest

While mandatory for children, life vests are equally important for adults. As Thee put it: "Even if you're a great swimmer, if you're knocked unconscious it doesn't matter. I can't emphasize that enough, they have so many kinds of life vests these days, there's no excuse not to wear one."

2. Gain Experience

People who are unfamiliar with boating or the lake should take the precaution of attending safety training. There are several programs around the lake to choose from, learning from an experienced boater will help keep you from making small, detrimental mistakes on the water.

3. Maintain a Lookout

Whether you're in a 17-foot power boat or the Queen Mary, Thee says it's essential to maintain a lookout to be sure you don't accidentally run into another boat, a dock or people floating in the water.

"Taking the kids out on the ski boat and turning sharp turns is a wonderful time, but if you aren't paying attention and don't have a good lookout you could run into another boat, especially on busy holiday weekends when there's a lot of water traffic," he said.

4. Lower Your Speed

If you're feeling uncomfortable with your ability in the boat or the ability of others around you, a best practice for boating safety is to reduce your speed.

"Any way you screw up on the water, doing it faster is worse — if you're going really fast, what might be embarrassing at 20 miles per hour could be fatal at 50 miles per hour," Thee said.

5. Mechanical Check

The fifth most common contributing factor to boating incidents is mechanical failure. If you haven't had the boat out all year Thee recommends having it checked over.

"Get everything checked out before your first time out. Check the engine compartment, look for mouse droppings, chewed up paper — mice love chewing the insulation off of wires, and then you have a potential short; if you have gas fumes it could start a fire."

Echoing his earlier words of wisdom, Thee said that any of these potential problems have immediately more drastic repercussions without a life vest.

"It's the difference between getting a little wet versus getting dead," he said.

Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at cwalker@sierrasun.com, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.