Lake Tahoe is a big, high alpine lake fed by snowmelt. The water is always cold and weather conditions can change rapidly. We want you to have a fun adventure, so play it safe with these water safety tips and regulations.

  • Always wear a life jacket and a SUP leash!
  • 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 bright colors, carry bright paddles along with a whistle and flashlight.
  • Take a paddle safety course, and get expert instructions here.

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

safety ring

File a Float Plan

Use this quick tool to let others know where you are going and when you’ll be back.


Lake Tahoe Water is Always Cold

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.

Even though you are paddling, you are still a boater subject to the same legal requirements. Knowing the law will save your life! Take a FREE online paddle sports safety course

Also, consider filing a Float Plan – before you go. This quick, free tool emails your itinerary to a friend or family member to let them know where you are going, when you are headed out, and when you are due back. Here’s a printable Float Plan to leave in your vehicle.


Life Jackets & Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

  • Each paddler 13 years of age or older must have a US Coast Guard-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.
  • Children under age 13 MUST ALWAYS 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 Personal Flotation Devices (PFD) must be worn on the person to meet the life jacket regulation.  A PFD is a life-saving device that is USCG-approved under law.
  • For all life jackets and PFDs, be sure to read the label to know if special requirements pertain to that device.

Free Loaner Life Jackets for Kids and Adults:  Available at three City of South Lake Tahoe Fire Stations and two Tahoe Douglas Fire stations in Zephyr Cove (station 23) and Stateline (station 21).

Other Required Gear

  • 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!

2 stand up paddle boarders on Lake Tahoe


Lake Tahoe Wind & Weather Conditions

Summer Wind Patterns on Lake Tahoe

Summer Wind 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.

Lake Tahoe Conditions

Explore Lake Tahoe real-time conditions for water temperature and wave height from the UC Davis TERC lake data stations. Data are updated every hour.

Alcohol on the Water – Doesn’t Mix with Safe Paddling

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.

Visit www.BoatCalifornia.com for California Boating laws and safety requirements, and www.ndow.org/boat for Nevada boating laws and safety requirements.

It’s easy and will save your life!


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tahoe lakefront owners association


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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