Water Safety

Paddler wearing her life jacket around her waste and SUP leash.

Lake Tahoe is Big. Really Big. So are the Conditions.

Be Aware! Be Prepared!  Cold Water Survival Tips
  • Lake Tahoe water is always cold
  • Pay attention to changing wind and weather conditions – check Lake Tahoe marine forecast and LT wind and weather forecast
  • Avoid cold water shock and hypothermia — enter water slowly and control your breathing
  • Always wear your life jacket to keep your head above water, and keep you insulated
  • Always wear a SUP leash so your board doesn’t get away from you

Family wearing life jackets

Plan your safe adventure with our Day Trip Maps

In case of emergency, call Coast Guard Lake Tahoe at (530) 583-4433 or 911.

Drowning incidents at Lake Tahoe are often caused by cold water shock, an involuntary gasp reflex caused by sudden immersion in cold water. Paddlers suddenly exposed to the cold waters of Lake Tahoe may experience rapid breathing, gasping, fainting, muscle failure and immediate risk of drowning.  Even the most experienced and strong kayakers or paddle boarders can succumb to cold water shock so wear your life jacket.  It will keep you afloat, your head out of the water, and provide insulation to keep you warm if you fall in the water.

US Coast Guard Regulations: It is your responsibility to know Lake Tahoe USCG rules.

Life Jackets:

  • Each paddler 13 years of age or older must have a USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or appropriate Type V (see below) life jacket. It doesn’t have to be worn, although that’s certainly the wisest plan, and one which we strongly recommend.
  • A child 12-years old or younger must wear their USCG-approved life jacket.
  • The jacket must be in “serviceable condition,” without rips, tears or deterioration that will diminish its performance.
  • The jacket must be of an appropriate size and fit for the wearer.
  • A Type V jacket can be used as long as it’s USCG-approved and applicable for the activity.
  • Belt pouch-type inflatable PFDs, such as the ones we carry, must be worn on the person to meet the life jacket regulation. For other types of inflatable PFDs, check the approval description printed on the unit for restrictions.
  • For all life jackets, be sure to read the label to know if special requirements pertain to that device.

Other Required Gear:

  • A whistle or other sound producing device must be carried to warn other boaters.
  • If you’re on the water after sunset, you need to have a flashlight, or similar lighting device, to warn other boaters.  Do Not USE a red flashing light (like your bike light) this is a call of distress.
  • SUP leashes – These are not flotation devices, but they will keep you tethered to your paddleboard so it won’t float away from you. Wear it, along with your life jacket!

What You Need to Do:

  • As the operator of a vessel, you need to follow the Navigation Rules.
  • You are also required to report any boating accident or injury to the local reporting authority, either the USCG or other agency that has been delegated that authority.

Know the rules of the water

It is vital that you understand Lake Tahoe boating laws and regulations.  Knowing about the designated areas for swimming, motorized watercraft, and for other light watercraft will help you avoid unfortunate accidents.

U.S. Coast Guard Station Lake Tahoe, Flotilla 11NR-11-01, North Lake Tahoe has supplied this helpful Boating Safety on Lake Tahoe Map which includes Medical Evacuation Points and Line of Sight Landmarks.

Lake Tahoe Wind & Weather Conditions

Summer Wind Patterns

Lake Tahoe Weather Patterns

Be aware of the predominant increase in intensity of southwest winds during the afternoon, and be especially careful near the west side for down blasts coming off of steep mountain peaks and canyons at Baldwin Beach, Emerald Bay, Ward Canyon and the entire West Shore.

Summer winds are normally out of southwest when lake wind advisories are in effect. Paddlers should be aware that this means they could be blown offshore if paddling on the south and west shores leading to possible hypothermia, or worse, death.  Paddlers on the east and north shores will need to be ready to deal with substantial waves.  The chance for injury is quite high in these circumstances, i.e. crashing in the shore break, which is probably a daily experience along these shores when lake wind is in effect. Ironically, while much less likely chance of an injury there is much higher chance of a death due to being blown offshore along the west and south sides of the lake. Fortunately,  many of these potential accidents are avoided due to good Samaritan folks in motorized watercraft. Thank you all boaters.

Fall, Winter & Spring Wind Patterns

While it can be T-shirt weather in the heart of winter, be aware. At some point during the fall, winter and spring the east and northeast wind will probably begin to blow on any given day. Air temperature will drop precipitously especial during winter. The chance of cold shock increases, which is partly influenced by the difference between water and air temperature. The threat of hypothermia is reason enough to consider wearing a life jacket even if you are an excellent swimmer.  Your safest bet is to dress for water temperature. At a minimum carry a dry change of clothes in a dry bag, stay close to shore and wear your life jacket.  Your life jacket is basically a super insulated vest, and can keep you warm.

Alcohol on the water

While some locations may allow alcoholic beverages near the water, very few allow people to drink and operate a boat, jet ski, or any other type of watercraft at the same time and with good reason.  Alcohol impairs judgment and slows reaction time, which could create a tragic opportunity for an accident to occur.  Keep yourself and others safe and don’t mix the two activities.

Learn Skills Before You Are in Trouble

It is important to take the time to learn rescue techniques such as CPR. If something goes wrong, knowing the right way to save a drowning victim can literally be the difference between life and death. Consider taking a paddle and water safety clinic from one of our Tahoe Paddle Shop and Outfitters.