Tahoe patrol boats keep waters safe
With a warm, sunny Fourth of July weekend around the corner, visitors and locals will be hitting the lake and beaches. Water rescues have already been higher than normal this year at Lake Tahoe, and officials say they are ready to handle a possible uptick in rescues while reminding people to be safe.
Lake Tahoe U.S. Coast Guard Station Chief Colt Fairchild said there has been an increase of water rescues since coronavirus restrictions were lifted, the boat dock has opened and the weather warmed.
The beginning of summertime usually comes with an increase in rescues. However, this year Fairchild says that they are seeing more than usual.
On June 27 alone, Tahoe’s marine rescuers responded to 13 incidents, including 11 within a two-hour period. A total of 17 lives were saved or assisted that day, Fairchild said.
Several calls involve human-powered watercraft such as paddle boards, kayaks. Because the Lake is so cold, if someone falls in, they could suffer hypothermia and cold shock response.
“Even when the temperature out of the water is supposed to be 80 degrees, the water temperature is still below 60 degrees,” Fairchild said.
Jumping in the water can initiate a cold shock response, within 10 minutes extremities can fail and without some sort of lifejacket, it can be life threatening.
Fairchild strongly encourages people to wear a flotation device on the water at all times because it keeps their head out of the water even if they’re unconscious.
“There was a Jet Ski case two or three weeks ago where the people were hypothermic, but not unconscious and we were able to have a successful rescue.”
This Fourth of July weekend, Fairchild expects to see an increased amount of boaters on the lake. USCG Station Lake Tahoe and other government partners have implemented their awareness campaign Operation Dry Water for the holiday weekend.
Since alcohol is one of the leading factors of fatal boating accidents, USCG will be educating boaters and enforcing boater safety by making sure boat operators are under the federal .08 legal blood alcohol content limit.
“Designate a sober boat driver. Enjoy the lake, but be boat responsible and take care of your crew,” Fairchild said.
When the Coast Guard gets emergency calls and needs help, they radio the closest responders.
Douglas and Washoe counties, South Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District all have rescue boats on Lake Tahoe.
Tahoe Douglas Fire Marshal Eric Guevin said they have been busy with calls.
“Given the situation with COVID, the numbers are higher,” he said.
Guevin said that there has been an increase in the number of people on the beaches.
“People can’t go to the movies so they are going outside,” he said.
A majority of the water rescue calls have dealt with human-powered watercraft such as paddle boards, rafts, kayaks, Guevin said
“People are getting out too far from shore and are pushed by the wind or water,” he said. “Suddenly, people realize they are outside their comfort zone.”
He said that some old boats that haven’t been in the water for a while have had issues. The fire district intervenes when there could be a threat to life and safety. Guevin recommends that you know your watercraft.
“Be prepared by wearing your life jacket and wear it properly,” he said. “Don’t just have it with you, utilize it.”
Make sure the flotation device fits well and is worn correctly.
The fire district operates Marine 24, a 19-foot boat that has EMS, rescue and even firefighting capabilities. When people fell in the rocks near Secret Beach, medics on Marine 24 were able to start treatment right away. They used the boat to get people to a pier and into an ambulance much quicker than trying to get the people back up the rocks and hill to the road.
“Cold water shock is a real concern that people need to be aware of,” Guevin said, and added that most drownings in Lake Tahoe are related to that. He explained while hypothermia happens slower, cold water shock is an instant gasp reflex response.
“We had a drowning last year by Edgewood,” he said.
Cold water shock can happen to anyone regardless of age, health or fitness level.
Guevin also recommends thinking before diving into the Lake to rescue someone. “The last thing we want is two victims, when there was one,” he said.
He recommends these water rescue methods:
First try to reach the victim with your arm or leg. If a pole or sturdy stick is available, try to use that to reach out to the victim and pull them to safety.
Throw something to the victim such as a rope.
Row a boat to the victim.
Lastly, go (with support) to swim out to the victim to rescue them.
Guevin recommends parents have a “designated water watcher” to look out for children by the Lake.
He said studies show that when we think everyone is watching the children, often no one is watching or paying attention.