You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

As Lake Tahoe's boat launches open, officials brace for another accident-filled season

Reno-Gazette-Journal logo Reno-Gazette-Journal 5/1/2021 Amy Alonzo, Reno Gazette Journal

Boating-related accidents skyrocketed at Lake Tahoe in 2020, and some lake officials are estimating this summer will be no different.

“We were extremely busy compared to the prior 21 years I’ve worked here, and I suspect it’s going to be the same this year,” said South Lake Tahoe Police Department Lt. Shannon Laney, who added that the number of incidents on Lake Tahoe were “substantially more” than he could recall in other years.

In October, a 30-year-old Texas woman drowned after falling into the water near Zephyr Cove. She was in a boat with a man and six children at the time, and the man dove into the water to try to rescue her. The man suffered extreme hypothermia and was transported to the hospital for treatment after rescue teams found him and the children, according to the Tahoe Douglas Fire Prevention District.

Tahoe boating incidents are tracked by the California Department of Boating and Waterways and the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

For local stories that matter, subscribe today.

In 2020, 96 search and rescues were initiated on the California portion of the lake and 32 accidents were reported. Of those 32 accidents, 15 were fatal and included one propeller strike, two cold water immersions and 12 drownings.

Those numbers are substantially higher than in years past. Although Laney did not have numbers available for 2019 and the California Department of Parks and Recreation website only lists data through 2016, last year saw three to four times more accidents than the years leading up through 2016.

In 2015 and 2016, nine accidents were reported on the California side of Lake Tahoe; in 2014, 13 accidents were reported.

On the Nevada side of the lake, NDOW reported eight accidents in 2020, none that were fatal. Those numbers were on par with previous years for Nevada, according to NDOW Boating Education Coordinator Aaron Meier.

UPDATE: Authorities release name of woman who drowned in Lake Tahoe Friday

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Public Information Officer Jeff Cowen said the number of boats on the lake at any one time is hard to track, but overall there was an increase in boating activity on the lake.

Most of the injuries reported on the California side were from rentals, Laney said.

Part of that is because in California and Nevada, most boat owners are required to obtain boater safety cards. But for rentals, the signed rental agreement counts as meeting the requirement.

“That’s where a lot of our accidents happen – on rental boats,” Laney said. “They get a quick little run through from the rental company, but they don’t really know what they are doing.”

And many of the boats on the lake are rentals. Tahoe boat rental companies say they saw an exponential increase in customers during the pandemic. and they expect similar numbers this year.

Tahoe Sports Tahoe Keys Boat Rental Manager Taylor Hatch said, “We definitely saw a huge increase last year over previous years.” She estimated the company saw three times the number of rentals it would normally see for a summer season.

“Since international travel got banned, everyone started flocking up here,” she said.

Most of the company’s customers are inexperienced boaters, and staff goes over operational and safety procedures with renters, Hatch said.

Rent A Boat Lake Tahoe Manager Ashley Amedure said the company quizzes its customers before they head out and offers captain services for people who aren’t experienced driving a boat.

“We really try to scope out people before they leave so that our stuff won’t get ruined and they stay safe,” she said.

Amedure said Rent A Boat is already booking vessels into August.

“It’s going to be a pretty busy summer,” she said.

Laney said a South Lake Tahoe Police team that monitors the lake from Memorial Day to Labor Day often encounters reckless jet skiers, people who drive too fast in no-wake zones, and vessels in distress.

And even the boaters who are prepared to handle a vessel responsibly aren’t always prepared for Tahoe’s conditions, Laney said.

“It’s cold and at attitude. Both of those have a huge effect on people’s ability to swim,” he said. “The cold shock is one of the biggest killers up here. People come up who are familiar with water and jump in the lake, and we have a lot of them who die from heart attacks or drowning and it’s because of the cold water.”

With some Lake Tahoe boat launches opening this weekend, officials are hoping to get the boating safety message out.

Nevada State Park’s Sand Harbor and Cave Rock boat ramps open for the summer on May 1. Other launches, such as the Tahoe Vista Recreation Area and Boat Launch, opens May 21.  

“Drownings are 100 percent avoidable and people are still dying,” Laney said.

Amy Alonzo covers the outdoors, recreation and environment for Nevada and Lake Tahoe. Reach her at aalonzo@gannett.com or (775) 741-8588. Here's how you can support ongoing coverage and local journalism

This article originally appeared on Reno Gazette Journal: As Lake Tahoe's boat launches open, officials brace for another accident-filled season

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From Reno-Gazette-Journal

Reno-Gazette-Journal
Reno-Gazette-Journal
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon