Rescuers stress importance of water safety at Lake Tahoe
Just as record precipitation over the past year has raised the level of Lake Tahoe, rescuers around the Lake are trying to raise safety awareness in the wake of a handful of drownings and near-drownings.
Safety experts are particularly stressing life jackets, cold water shock, paddling safety and the need to wear engine cut-off devices on power boats.
“We’ve seen a lot of water this year, and we expect many more people to head to Lake Tahoe and other waterways,” said Chief Game Warden Tyler Turnipseed. “We don’t want to see more people hurt because of unfamiliar conditions or a lack of preparation.”
Wearing a life jacket is the single most important step a person can take to prevent drowning. The best way for boaters, paddlers and swimmers to stay safe is to always wear a life jacket.
“We want visitors to enjoy the uniquely beautiful scenery of Lake Tahoe, but also be aware of the conditions and prepare themselves for cold water,” said Jay Howard, Park Supervisor at Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.
Life jackets are the key to water safety no matter what activity a person engages in at the lake. Last year, Lake Tahoe had several drownings by people who overestimated their swimming ability, but just carrying a life jacket is never enough. Life jackets have to be worn and they must fit properly to work.
“We’ve seen too many accidents where people fall off a motorboat and then are run over by their own propeller. These accidents are devastating, and we want to get the word out about the Nevada law that requires boaters to wear engine cut-off devices,” said Fred Messmann, deputy director of the National Safe Boating Council.
Drowning incidents from boating, paddling and swimming often share the same cause, “cold water shock,” an involuntary gasp reflex caused by sudden immersion in cold water. Swimmers and boaters suddenly exposed to the cold waters of Lake Tahoe may experience rapid breathing, gasping, fainting, muscle failure and immediate risk of drowning. Boaters should always be prepared for an accidental fall overboard, which is one of the most common fatal accidents every year at Lake Tahoe.
“No one ever thinks it will be them who falls overboard or who gets tired during a long swim, but we see it time and time again,” said Turnipseed. “People don’t expect to fall in the water, and they always overestimate their swimming ability. If we can get boaters, paddlers and swimmers to wear a life jacket, we can nearly eliminate fatal accidents at Tahoe.”
Visitors to Lake Tahoe can learn about safe boating and swimming safety by listening to an NDOW podcast on the subject at http://www.nevadawild.org. Boaters are required to carry a life jacket for every person on board any boat, including stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and rafts. Children under 13 years old are required to wear a life jacket on a boat at all times, unless in an enclosed cabin.