Safety key when boating Lake Tahoe
July 4, 2013
Put away the anchor, unfurl the spinnaker and someone man the helm — boating season on Lake Tahoe is here.
Those with a penchant for nautical adventures of all varieties can satiate their water lust on Lake Tahoe.
The famed water body, known widely as the "Jewel of the Sierra," can accommodate motorboaters with a need for speed, leisurely sailors out for a relaxing jaunt on the waters or those who prefer to man their own kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.
However, officials are committed to protect the lake from the threat of overuse, pollution, environmental degradation and aquatic invasive species and have implemented a rigorous boat inspection program.
Boaters are asked to exercise a little patience and cooperation with inspectors who are trying to keep potentially destructive forces out of the lake's unique but fragile ecosystem.
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The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, a bistate environmental regulatory and planning agency created in 1969 by Congress, is one of the main agencies responsible for protecting Tahoe's environment.
Fears about the potential invasion of zebra and quagga mussels are increasing in the American West, after the environmentally detrimental species established a stronghold in Lake Mead in Southern Nevada in 2008 and procreated at an alarming rate.
The mussels have become a large problem in the Great Lakes area, attaching to intake and outtake pipes, costing lakeside industries millions of dollars annually, while wreaking havoc on native species in the ecosystem.
Ted Thayer, Wildlife Program Manager for TRPA, has said that while the invasive mussels are a prominent reason for the agency's inspection policies, other species are causing concern.
"New Zealand mud snails and plants such as hydrilla are on our radar screen," Thayer said. "The threat is imminent."
In order to fund the ongoing inspections of boats, the TRPA has established a fee for boaters based on the size of the vessel, the horsepower of the engine and whether the boat is used exclusively in Lake Tahoe.
For a full listing of boat inspection locations and fees specific to Lake Tahoe, visit trpa.org or tahoeboatinspections.com.
Aquatic invasive species are usually transported from one body of water to another via watercraft.
So, it is important for boaters to provide inspectors with factual information regarding which water bodies into which their boat had previously launched.
Three summers ago, a then-29-year-old Los Angeles resident was fined $5,000 for evading an inspector-mandated decontamination at Lake Tahoe by providing false information regarding the last lake his boat had navigated.
And just this past summer, in what could be called a banner year, inspectors with the Tahoe Resource Conservation District intercepted at least six boats with aquatic invasive species attached from entering Tahoe, including five boats carrying invasive quagga or zebra mussels and one boat potentially transporting New Zealand mudsnails.
Boaters receive an inspection seal upon a successful completion of a lakeside inspection, which take place at main entry points into the basin. Those who tamper with such seals will also be subject to fines and penalties.
Despite generally safe conditions afforded by Lake Tahoe, boaters need to be prepared for dangerous situations. When out in the water, individuals should ensure their vessel is equipped with the safety equipment required by federal law.
Such items include lifejackets, fire extinguishers, a whistle, a bell or horn, a visual distress signal or flare, a ventilation duct allowing for proper ventilation of inboard gasoline engines and a backfire flame arrestor for inboard engines.
Wind can be a deceptive problem for sailors on the waters of Lake Tahoe.
Abrupt gusts of high intensity are sufficient to capsize small watercraft. Mornings, in particular, can produce deceptively calm conditions.
In the event of sudden wind gusts, head for protective harbors until conditions improve. Also, consult detailed weather forecasts before heading out.
Alcohol is a significant cause of many boating related accidents, injuries and fatalities.
Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a federal offense punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and one year in prison.
Lake Tahoe is an alpine lake, which means its water temperature is cool year-round, making it conducive to hypothermia for those exposed to sudden immersion, rendering self-rescue in such cases difficult if not impossible.
Tahoe's temperature necessitates wearing a lifejacket when out on the water.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email email@example.com or 530-477-4239.
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