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BOATING LAKE TAHOE

Please also see "Current Conditions" for additional boating concerns.

I have owned a vessel of one type of another for the past thirty-five years and have been boating the waters of Lake Tahoe for the past thirty years, so I have some experience to impart.  Lake Tahoe can at times be a beautiful and placid body of calm water on which to enjoy a peaceful cruise.  The lake can also change with very little notice and become a scary and unforgiving environment if you are in a small craft.

My best advice is as follows:  Check the weather channels before heading out for a day on the lake.  Check one of the web cams to see what it looks like ahead of time.  See what direction they are forecasting the wind and also the wind speed.  Wind speeds of up to eight to ten MPH are about the comfortable limit for small boats here.  The prevailing wind usually comes from the west or southwest side of the lake and blows to the east or northeast.  As such, the lake can be relatively calm on the west shore and very choppy and hazardous at the same time on the east side where our beaches are located.  Under these conditions you can probably enjoy boating on the west and south shores anyway.  A red pennant flying at you favorite launch site is a Small Craft Warning and should be sufficient to keep you onshore and enjoying other activities.

If you are enjoying a day on your boat on the east side of the lake and it starts to get a bit breezy, you should watch for a gray line on the horizon of the lake.  That gray line indicates a building line of whitecaps or heavy wave action approaching from the west.  You would be well advised to start making way to a sheltered area.  In my earlier and uninformed years I once encountered this condition and made the wrong decision to try to start straight back across to the west shore where I’d launched.  I got about midway across the lake and found myself in some heavy chop and a wave height of about 6’.  That was nearly too much for my boat.  The crashing waves broke loose all of my seats and threw my gear all over.  I throttled back until the bow of the boat was pointing upward and just bounced from wave to wave for what seemed like an endless time.  Fortunately, all ended well except for the required repairs.  I would have been better to have donned life jackets and then made way to the safe haven of the Sand Harbor protected cove and there waited until the wind died down.

Be aware that changes in the color of the water signify changes in the lake depth.  A deep blue is a sign that you are in deep waters.  A lighter turquoise means you are getting into shallower waters and a light green means to beware that it is very shallow.  A mottled appearance indicates you are in an area with a rocky bottom!  Watch for buoys; they are put there for a reason.  They may mean to slow to 5 MPH and create no wake.  They may indicate a hazard beneath the surface also.  Sometimes the lake is deceiving because you think you are well-offshore and that it should therefore be deep and safe….. NOT TRUE!  There are many areas where rock outcroppings extend substantial distances offshore.

You would be well-advised to carry a cell phone or VHF Marine radio with you.  It will be useful in case you have mechanical problems or some type of emergency.  Nothing is more frustrating than having a genuine problem and not being able to gain assistance.  I encountered a fellow boater earlier this year that had anchored offshore near Secret Cove at a time of day when the breeze was calm.  Later in the afternoon the winds began to pick up and he found he did not have enough anchor rope and chain to hold the bottom.  His boat started being pushed by the wind onto the rocks.  Then he found that his engine had flooded and he could not get it started.  That was about the time that I came into view.  Someone told me he was having trouble and needed help.  I towed him away from the rocks and then tried to help him get started, but to no avail.  I eventually towed him into the protection of the Cove and assisted him in securing his boat for the night.  Fortunately, the engine started for him the next morning.  He was really lucky to have someone there that was willing to help or he would have surely ended up on the rocks.

There is a kind of unwritten rule of boating…..  If you see someone in need of assistance, help them if you can.  It doesn’t matter if it is giving a jump start, towing them to a place of safety, making a cell phone call for them or whatever.  Someday you will be in need of assistance and your good deed will come back to you.  You just don’t hesitate here!

Ramp Ettiquette: "He that controls the boat trailer, controls the flow pattern at the ramp!" When you are planning on launching, you wait your turn in line in order to back down the ramp. You launch your vessel and then pull it out of the launch lane to a position on the beach or perhaps having someone circle it offshore while you park the vehicle and trailer. That way you don't plug up the ramp and get all the other boaters upset at you. Returning at the end of the day is much the same in reverse. You beach your boat or have someone drop you at the ramp so that you can get the trailer. You get in line once again and when it is your turn to back the trailer down the ramp THEN it is time to bring the vessel into the ramp approach. This is the accepted pattern and it works until some neophyte having a bad day, yelling at his wife and making his kids cry makes a scene at the ramp by trying to force his way in front of everyone as was seen on the afternoon of 9/10/06.

A word of wisdom on your speed…..  Do whatever speed you feel comfortable away from the shoreline, but keep it under 5 MPH and create No Wake within 200 yards of the shoreline.  Your wake is a major source of unnecessary erosion and stirring of sediment on the shoreline.  The wake also is a real source of aggravation for those boaters that have beached or docked vessels.  Figure here also that “What Goes Around, Comes Around”…  you will appreciate the return favor of no wakes from your fellow boaters.

When you pull away from your launch take a moment to look back and familiarize yourself with the appearance of the shoreline and nearby mountains.  It will be an aid when you try to return later in the day.  Lake Tahoe is quite large and it can be frustrating to plot a course back to where you think you originated and then find nothing familiar when you get there.  Even better, use a GPS to make a waypoint at your launch, make another for the Cove when you get there and anything else in between that piques your interest.

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