Lake Tahoe provides some spectacular paddling experiences, as do some of the waterways surrounding the lake. With any activity that occurs on water, though, there are always safety concerns.
If you’ve read the newspaper lately, you’ve likely seen the multiple instances of kayakers and paddleboard user getting themselves into dangerous — sometimes fatal — situations for any number of reasons.
Although not all paddlers who get into a dicey situation are at fault, many of these incidents can be prevented, or at least mitigated, with some foresight.
One place to avoid if you are unsure of conditions is the Upper Truckee River.
“One of the first things someone could do for safety is having a [personal flotation device] on and zipped up,” said Brandon Miller, owner of SUP Tahoe. “Some people will just have it nearby and think they will be able to grab it, but it can get away from you quickly. It’s also important to have a leash on your paddle.”
SUP Tahoe has whistles attached to the flotation devices it provides, so a paddler can be heard from a significant distance if they encounter trouble, according to Miller.
Simply wearing a PFD properly and leashing paddles are two of the most basic things a paddler can do that will go a long way if a dangerous situation occurs. According to Miller, wearing a PFD can also aid with cold water shock. Although it doesn’t do anything to prevent the physiological effects of cold water shock, being able to stay afloat can be the only thing that allows a person to make it to safety.
Things that are beyond the paddler’s control can come into play as well. Although Lake Tahoe may appear calm most of the time, that can change quickly with strong winds causing a lot of problems.
“It’s important to pay attention to red flag warnings on the lake,” said Patrick Gillick, of Tahoe Sports LTD. “Don’t go out on windy days.”
According to Gillick, wind is something that plays a larger role in safety than people realize. Wind can cause a vessel to become unstable and potentially capsize.
If you do happen to capsize, experts say just remaining calm is crucial.
“Where we live, the conditions can change very rapidly,” said Sean Justus, sales consultant at Americana Surplus. “That can cause someone to panic if they aren’t expecting something to happen.”
Justus explained that righting a capsized kayak can be relatively easy if the person remains calm.
“You need to get the boat turned over first so you can enter from a comfortable position. You can lock your leg inside if it’s a sit-on-top and barrel-roll it back top side.”
If you don’t have the ability to do that, Justus said that laying your body over the middle of a capsized kayak and reaching on the other side to pull it towards you can right the kayak. If in the water and the kayak is already upright, laying your body perpendicular over one of the ends of the kayak then slowly pivoting to be parallel with the kayak can ease the transition back into your seat.
“You should always bring a dry bag with some supplies,” said Justus. “I always bring water and a few other necessities, like a first-aid kit.”
Just being aware of your surroundings and being comfortable with your gear and clothing can influence safety.
“Paddlers should make sure they have a boat they feel comfortable getting in and out of and putting in and out of the water,” said Gillick. “And be sure to wear comfortable and appropriate clothing.”
Gillick explained that not knowing where you are going is something that could possibly cause problems, too. There has been debris reported in waterways and hitting limbs or trees can submerge a kayak.
And lastly, being aware of where other boaters are can help kayakers avoid problems with wake. Lake Tahoe has a no-wake zone of 600 feet from the shore to assist with both swimming and boating safety.