Lake Tahoe Paddling Navigation Safety Tips

kayakers near Whale Beach on Lake Tahoe

While mobile phones give you easy access to the Lake Tahoe Water Trail website to find interactive maps, real-time wind and weather, as well as the ability to file a float plan, one of the most important skills to have on your kayaking tips list is to be aware of your surroundings. This is of course in addition to knowing how to swim and being able to self-rescue on your kayak or your paddleboard.

Heads UP!

Lake Tahoe is a very busy lake, and wind conditions can change in an instant. Don’t be caught off guard – wear your life jacket and pay attention. One of the best paddle boarding / kayaking tips we can give you is to be Heads UP… or in other words, keep your head on a swivel for the following variables:

Sudden Wind Downbursts

As we’ve talked about so many times in articles such as Understanding Lake Tahoe Weather In June, July, And August, you need to keep your eyes open for sudden wind bursts. This is especially true on the west shore in the afternoons. The way to identify the potential of a wind burst is to pay attention to how the wind feels on your face and skin. In addition, look for the dark blue line of wind. We talk about this “line” in depth in our article: Lake Tahoe Wind… Not A Trifling Gust To Mess With.

Very Busy Lake

As the surrounding areas get into triple digit temperatures, everyone beelines right up to Tahoe to get a bit of respite from the oppressive heat. Tahoe boating is VERY popular. Everyone from wake boarders to large tour boats and any other way you can imagine, people are out there. This makes for a busy lake. As such, don’t forget Paddlers are Boaters too and paddlers must give way to all powerboats.

Limited Visibility

Even with 300+ sunny days a year, there are times when visibility can be difficult. It could be smoke from a forest fire. Fog in the early morning hours. Or even classic sun glare on the water. It’s critical that when you launch, you turn around and look at the beach. Why? Because then you’ll have some landmarks to help you spot back on your return. Also, instead of putting on a boring olive t-shirt, pick something bright. Highlighter orange. Sunfire red. Electric yellow. And don’t just focus on your clothing. It’s also a good idea to carry bright paddles so you can be easily seen by others out on the water. This is your chance to be as bright as your soul! Lastly, if you do plan on being on the lake at sunset or after dark, carry a whistle and white light to warn others of your presence.

Visual Navigation

Cave Rock Kayakers and SUP
Image appears courtesy: Sierra Business Council

More than anything out of our list of kayaking tips, it is imperative that you understand navigation and boating rules. This will help you know how to interact with other boaters. As well as how to report your location on the water if you need to call for help. We can’t stress this enough… pay attention to your surroundings on the water.

Keep your eyes peeled for navigation buoys placed by the US Coast Guard. Make sure that each person in your group is within sight of each other. Look around at the mountains and identify features. The burn scar below the Heavenly gondola. The vertical scarred lines above Incline Village or even the most classic identifier on Big Blue – Cave Rock. There are many land formations just above the horizon that can help you understand where you are on the lake.

If you’re looking for a few more paddle boarding or kayaking tips, we have an assortment of articles you can learn from such as: A Beginner’s Guide On How To Enjoy The Lake Tahoe Water Trail. Last but not least, we HIGHLY recommend picking up a copy of the waterproof Lake Tahoe Water Trail & Access Guide — that’s available in English AND Spanish. It provides all the information we’ve talked about above, public beaches with launch and landing sites, cool things to see, AND you guessed it – it’s waterproof. As we always like to say, “Live to Paddle Another Day!” Happy Paddling.

The Lake Tahoe Water Trail is a Sierra Business Council sustainable recreation tourism project. Learn more about SBC's innovative social, environmental and economic development projects in the Sierra Nevada at www.sierrabusiness.org.


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Sierra Business Council and the Lake Tahoe Water Trail Committee and their contributors will be in no way responsible for personal injury or damage to personal property arising in conjunction with the use of this website or printed materials. Good judgment and planning are critical to any successful outing. Before heading out on the water, it is recommended that you check with other sources of information for the latest lake conditions.

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