Lake Tahoe is finally reining in bad boater behavior – San Francisco Chronicle

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Ahead of what is expected to be another extremely busy summer tourism season on Lake Tahoe, community leaders there are embarking upon a campaign to prevent dangerous behavior on the water.

Tahoe sees about 15, 000 vessel launches a year — mostly between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the time when millions of visitors arrive to fish, wakesurf, kayak, Jet Ski, tube or just putter around in the sun. Rental companies stationed around the lake, primarily on the particular California half, are readying their fleets for another banner season.

“Once it warms up, we’ll be slamming, ” said Dustin Kenney, office manager at Tahoe Keys Boat Rentals in South Lake Tahoe, one of the most popular rental operators on typically the lake.

But Tahoe presents all kinds of challenges for inexperienced boaters. Locals say it functions more like an ocean — with bone-chilling water temperatures, currents, chop and variably harsh surface conditions. There are drownings every year, including one already this month.

Tahoe authorities are working to better organize activity on this lake for decades to come. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which regulates development around the lake’s 72-mile shoreline, is seeking to expand lake access with more buoys, piers plus boat ramps, rein in illegal practices and emphasize safe travel, with special attention paid to environmentally sensitive areas.

Deckhand Brandon Thornberg of Tahoe Sports goes over life jacket safety with Michael Korcek before a day on Lake Tahoe.

Deckhand Brandon Thornberg of Tahoe Sports goes over life jacket safety with Michael Korcek before a day about Lake Tahoe.

Brian Walker / Special to The Chronicle

“The goal is to improve recreation for all, ” said Jeff Cowen, Tahoe Local Planning Agency public information officer.

Central to the agency’s efforts is reaching visiting boat renters.

Renting a boat on Tahoe is easy: Adults need only the valid ID and credit card. Rental companies typically brief customers on lake rules and give quick vessel tutorials before turning people loose on often the water. However , many site visitors don’t have even a new cursory understanding of boating etiquette, and companies aren’t held to specific standards of education or training when giving safety briefings, according to the Tahoe planning agency.

Visiting boaters frequently break basic decorum — blazing through low-speed zones or ignoring life coat requirements, sometimes while obviously intoxicated — which may draw the ire of locals and citations from any of the various law enforcement agencies patrolling Tahoe. Scenes of greenhorn boaters struggling with outboard motors, stalling their vessels or running aground are not uncommon.

This season in particular will test boaters’ awareness. For a second year in a row, Tahoe’s water level is likely to drop below the basin’s natural rim in late summer, bringing boats closer to shallow boulders and other underwater hazards. A lower lake also dries out boat ramps, particularly inside North Tahoe, and funnels people to fewer entry points to launch in addition to retrieve their vessels.

Once boaters get out in the lake, it’s usually smooth sailing.

“There’s nothing you’ll hit, because the lake is so deep, ” said Mike Crow, owner of North Lake Tahoe Boat Rental. “The problems occur when people try to beach their boats or get too close to shore. ”

Dock manager Ben Garcia goes over a safety briefing checklist with boat renter Alex Ibarra at Tahoe Sports in the Tahoe Keys Marina.

Dock manager Ben Garcia goes over a safety briefing checklist with boat renter Alex Ibarra at Tahoe Sports in the Tahoe Keys Marina.

Brian Walker or Special to The Chronicle

Crow’s company sends renters safety videos when they book, walks them through a 20-minute safety speech on-site, then tracks their boat via GPS during their tour to make sure they stay found in safe zones.

“We’ll gladly abide by any rules that TRPA puts within place to make our renters more knowledgeable regarding safety on the lake, ” Crow said.

The state Division associated with Boating and Waterways is in the process regarding requiring all boat owners to obtain the California Boater Card, a recent certification program meant in order to educate boaters and curb accidents and fatalities with the water. But there is no such program for boat renters.

With the help of the League to be able to Save Lake Tahoe, an environmental protection nonprofit, the planning agency developed the Tahoe Boating App for mobile devices, a wellspring of guidelines and information that features an interactive map involving the lake dotted with sightseeing destinations, fuel stops and restrooms as well as no-wake zones.

A new safety video the groups produced is being disseminated for you to rental companies this month in the hope that they’ll screen it for renters. It walks viewers through boating fundamentals and even underscores the mortal risk of the lake’s cold water.

Boats are anchored for summer at Tahoe Sports in the Tahoe Keys Marina in South Lake Tahoe.

Boats are anchored for summer at Tahoe Sports in the Tahoe Keys Marina in South Lake Tahoe.

Brian Walker/Special to help The Explain

The groups also partnered with the U. S. Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary to host a workshop this 30 days for rental companies together with marinas in hopes connected with bringing them into alignment on rules and protections for renters.

“We’re trying to bring the floor up on everyone who wants to do this legitimately, ” said Jesse Patterson, chief strategy officer with regard to the League to Save Lake Tahoe. In conjunction with the league, the TRPA is in the process of crafting a new concessionaire permit, which will require rental companies to adhere to certain requirements when training customers.

“There will be new regulations coming down the line, ” Patterson said. “We just want consistency around your lake. ”

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency recently lifted a 30-year moratorium on new shoreline structures and created a lottery system for permitting new buoys and boat ramps, effectively paving a path for more vessels and additionally expanded lake access. It allows for a maximum with 128 private piers not to mention 1, 486 new private moorings.

The agency has also pursued claims against rental operators skirting the law. For example , last year the agency reached a $90, 000 violation settlement agreement with Action Water Sports , a prominent rental company that the exact agency said had operated 10 illegal moorings at the lake. The company did not respond to some sort of request for comment. The settlement notice said that “AWS continues to dispute the alleged violations” but would implement a number for safety measures.

“Our board really wants to get the message out regarding enforcement and fines, ” Cowen said.

The push to bring order in order to Tahoe doesn’t yet include regulations on peer-to-peer rental marketplaces such as Get My Boat, Boatsetter and also Craigslist, which have surged for the lake in recent years. River Tahoe postings for Jet Skis, pontoons and other vessels on Get My Boat, for instance, have risen from 40 at the particular beginning of 2021 to be able to 112 this year.

Deckhands for Tahoe Sports take Jet Skis out for a test. Lake Tahoe presents many challenges for inexperienced boaters. Locals say it functions more like an ocean — with bone-chilling water temperatures, currents, chop and variably harsh surface conditions. There are drownings every year, including one already this month.

Deckhands for Tahoe Sports take Jet Skis out regarding a test. Lake Tahoe offers many challenges for inexperienced boaters. Locals say it functions more like an ocean — with bone-chilling water temperatures, currents, chop and variably harsh surface conditions. There are drownings every year, including one already this month.

Brian Walker/Special towards the Chronicle

While those rental platforms operate in something of a gray area, Get My Boat requires hosts for you to brief renters on Tahoe’s laws and general sailing safety practices, according to help marketing manager Val Streif.

Authorities’ overarching concern this summer, however , is drownings, which occur each year as well as often involve visitors unfamiliar with Tahoe’s deceptively frigid water and fast-changing surface area conditions.

A 58-year-old man from Palo Alto drowned this calendar month after falling out of the boat inside of 15 feet of depth off of the West Shore. His death was attributed to “cold water shock, ” a physiological phenomenon that can trigger the gasp reflex or cause erratic breathing and muscle failure in people who plunge into the chilly lake. It is often cited as a cause of accidental drownings at Tahoe, where water temps just below the area can hover around 50 degrees in May plus typically top out at about 68 degrees present in August.

“Tahoe can be sneaky. We see a lot about sudden shock syndrome through people not realizing how cold the water is just a foot or two down, ” said Doug Leavell, recreational boating safety specialist for the U. S. Coastline Guard’s District 11, which covers California and Nevada.

The Coast Guard couldn’t immediately provide exact figures on the number of drownings at Tahoe but said it has responded to an average of 73 search-and-rescue cases around the lake in each of the past five years. Those include distress calls from vessels taking on water, people who have fallen overboard in addition to medical incidents.

The best way to stay safe while boating on Tahoe is to wear a good life jacket at all times, authorities say. Another important piece of equipment to heed on typically the water: the fire extinguisher. Fire is “the No. 1 threat to any vessel concerning the water, ” stated Chief Colt Fairchild, officer in charge of Shoreline Guard Station Lake Tahoe.

“Our hope is that will these rental companies may touch on those things, ” Fairchild said. “A lot of people, especially this tourists, aren’t aware in the dangers of Tahoe. ”

Gregory Thomas is The San Francisco Chronicle’s editor of lifestyle and outdoors. Email: [email protected] com Twitter: @GregRThomas

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