U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that drowning was the reported cause of death in four out of every five recreational boating fatalities in 2020, and that 86 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets. Sadly, we’ve already witnessed this statistic at Lake Tahoe this season.

Earlier this month, North Tahoe firefighters were dispatched to a water rescue in Tahoma, where they received reports of two people in the water. A witness stated the victim had hold of the ladder but struggled to gain access to the vessel and shortly after entering the water, submerged without resurfacing. The incident took place approximately 100 yards into the buoy field.  

North Tahoe Fire personnel attempted rescue from shore with dry suits and shore-zone rescue gear, but the water was too deep. The US Coast Guard retrieved the victim who was attended to immediately by North Tahoe Fire paramedics on the boat, who attempted resuscitation efforts on the 58-year-old. CPR efforts were terminated at the direction of Tahoe Forest Health given the gravity of the circumstances. 

The water temperature in Lake Tahoe was approximately 45°F at the time of the incident. Lake Tahoe does not warm up until well into July. Even in late summer and close to shore, the water in Lake Tahoe is extremely cold and may result in Cold Shock Response, which can immediately incapacitate even the strongest and most experienced swimmers. Our hearts are with the victim’s loved ones.

Agencies who assisted with the rescue efforts include the United States Coast Guard, El Dorado County Sheriff, Meeks Bay Fire and North Tahoe Fire.  

Cold water survival tips

The National Safe Boating Council recommends these tips for boaters:

  • Take a boating safety course. Gain valuable knowledge and on-water experience in a boating safety course with many options for novice to experienced boaters.
  • Check equipment. Schedule a free vessel safety check with local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons to make sure all essential equipment is present, working and in good condition.
  • Make a float plan. Always let someone on shore know the trip itinerary, including operator and passenger information, boat type and registration, and communication equipment on board.
  • Wear a life jacket. Make sure everyone wears a life jacket – every time. A stowed life jacket is no use in an emergency.
  • Use an engine cut-off device – it’s the law. An engine cut-off device, or engine cut-off switch, is a proven safety device to stop the boat’s engine should the operator unexpectedly fall overboard.
  • Watch the weather. Always check the forecast before departing on the water and frequently during the excursion.
  • Know what’s going on around you at all times. Nearly a quarter of all reported boating accidents in 2020 were caused by operator inattention or improper lookout.
  • Know where you’re going and travel at safe speeds. Be familiar with the area, local boating speed zones and always travel at a safe speed.
  • Never boat under the influence. A DUI is involved in one-third of all recreational boating fatalities. Always designate a sober skipper.
  • Keep in touch. Have more than one communication device that works when wet. VHF radios, emergency locator beacons, satellite phones, and cell phones can all be important devices in an emergency.

This week is the annual kick-off of the Safe Boating Campaign, a global awareness effort that encourages boaters to make the most of their boating adventure by being responsible.