Paddlers Are Boaters Too! Know The Lake Tahoe Boating Rules

Kayaking Lake Tahoe Water Trail

Summer weather is sizzling luring paddlers to Lake Tahoe to enjoy pure liquid fun. Before you shove off of on a kayak or standup paddleboard, be aware that you must follow the same laws as motor boaters!  We’d like to make sure ALL of us on Lake Tahoe can have fun and come home safe. To help, here’s a basic overview of the Lake Tahoe boating rules that we all need to follow.

Wear A Life Jacket

kayaker wearing a personal floatation device on Lake Tahoe
Image appears courtesy: Sierra Business Council

The first and most important rule is to carry – and better yet – wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket. By law, life jackets must be worn by paddlers under the age of 13. While it might FEEL warm out, the lake water is always cold since it’s fed by snowmelt. Every year, MULTIPLE people die from cold water shock in Big Blue. Don’t become a statistic. Wear a life jacket – it’s that simple and it will save your life. For more tips on what to wear kayaking in addition to your PFD, check out our article: Paddle, Paddle, Glide – What To Wear Kayaking.

Carry A Loud Signaling Device

A lot of people are out enjoying the waters of Tahoe and sometimes they can get a bit distracted. Lake Tahoe is a multi-use lake. This means motor boaters, touring vessels and an assortment of other crafts. Often times they have trouble seeing paddlers so make yourself visible! Wear bright colors, carry bright paddles, and always carry a whistle and flashlight so you can alert others.

Sunset, Sunrise Have A White Light

Image Appears Courtesy: Day Go Adventures

As anyone can attest it’s hard to see at dusk or dawn. That’s why you should use a white navigation light such as a strong flashlight when paddling between sunset and sunrise and during times of restricted visibility to alert other boaters of your presence.  It’s very important that you don’t use a flashing red light (such as the one you use for bicycle riding). That red light is a call for distress on the water – and will make other boaters call for your rescue – a costly mistake.

Don’t Drink And Paddle

Lake Tahoe is BIG and having all your senses dialed will make sure you’re prepared for anything that happens. Simply put, resist the temptation to enjoy an adult beverage. Or better yet, go paddling in the morning and celebrate afterwards. You’ll avoid the most dangerous part of Lake Tahoe weather in the summer – the Washoe Zephyr.

The Laws Of The Water

In summary, it’s YOUR responsibility to know the federal and TRPA boating laws and regulations for Nevada and California. Visit Boat California and Nevada Depart Of Wildlife’s Boating Page to learn each state’s boating laws, safety requirements and AIS prevention. Or better yet, download the free Tahoe Boating app at www.TahoeBoating.org to have this information instantly at your fingertips and more. Lastly, be aware that Lake Tahoe also has no-wake zones to keep boaters and swimmers safe.


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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