ST. GEORGE —  If you take to the water and put in a boat or other floating recreational vessel, keep safety at the front of your mind.

The Colorado River cuts through the heart of the Black Canyon, which also features caves and coves, date not specified | Photo courtesy of National Park Service, St. George News

That’s the message from Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Nevada Department of Wildlife officials who remind visitors to be safe during the Memorial Day holiday weekend during National Boating Safety Week.

“Be aware of the challenges of being out here and most importantly, how to have a fun time but be safe in the process,” John Haynes, Lake Mead National Recreation Area public affairs officer, told St. George News.

Haynes emphasized safety while operating on any body of water, making sure your boat is ready for the water and understanding the rules and dangers of boating. For example, there can be dramatic changes in weather during monsoon season on Lake Mead. 

The area has three large bodies of water, including Lake Mead, Lake Mohave and the Colorado River. Haynes added that Lake Mead has over 750 miles of shoreline and spreads across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons and valleys.

He added that some rules are unique to the park, such as the prohibition of pool floating devices and glass containers. He added that boat drivers also need to drive safely. And vehicle operators need to be aware of their driving since there are major roads going through the park.  

Another way to stay safe while visiting the area is to be aware of the effects of the heat. Visitors need to know the signs of heat exhaustion. Haynes recommends that when the temperature gets over 100 degrees, people need to switch from hiking and biking out in the desert to being near or on the water.

Lake Mead, Boulder, NV, date unspecified | Photo by Matt York, The Associated Press, St. George News

“The heat here in the desert can be deceptive. It’s really hot but it’s dry heat. So people don’t always understand how their body reacts until it’s too late,” Haynes said. “We remind people to avoid strenuous activities out here. We actually close some of the more difficult trails because we’ve seen here people would misjudge their ability to hike on them.”

Visitors should also be aware that cellphone service is spotty and that they cannot call 911 in an emergency.

“The cell service is not always the best out in the park. So that’s why it’s important to prepare ahead of time and be aware of the hazards of having a problem out here in some of the dead zones for cell service,” Haynes said. “It’s a huge park; it’s 1.5 million acres. And so there’s no way that we have enough staff to cover that whole park. So, you need to be aware of the risks if you have a problem out in the middle of nowhere. It may be difficult to have people come out to help you.”

Visitors also often underestimate the importance of wearing jackets, but Haynes said it’s vital. Last year, the area had 29 fatalities, with six of those being drownings. 

“We always have people drowning every year. We’ve never found somebody who drowned and was wearing a life jacket. So it’s just so important, those things save lives,” Haynes said. 

Another safety tip Haynes shared was to limit alcohol while recreating. He added that drinking while boating has the same consequences as driving while intoxicated.

“We run into issues with people drinking and boating and then they start doing stupid things out on the lake or not paying attention. And that can lead to accidents as well,” Haynes said. 

More boat ramps have reopened due to elevated water levels at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Echo Bay, Nevada, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of National Park Service, St. George News

Last year, Haynes said there was a double fatality where a larger boat allegedly ran over a smaller boat, killing the occupants. The person driving the larger boat was allegedly intoxicated.

Haynes also urged the boating community to be patient with the increased summer visitation, as the launch ramps can get crowded. 

“You need to just be patient and understand there’s a lot of people trying to get down on the water. Be courteous to other boaters and be patient while you’re out here,” Haynes said.

A new safety concern in the last few years is that it’s a little more hazardous than usual because the park has had dramaticalof shrinking lake levels. Haynes said there can be rocks and sandbars in areas that didn’t have them previously.

Haynes also advised visitors to check the weather forecast, especially in monsoon season, when big storms come in unexpectedly. 

“The lake gets very rough, very quickly and we have boats that have been overturned. We have jet skis overturned. It’s windy here even on a good day,” Haynes said. 

Recently, he added that some jetskiers were thrown from their skis and didn’t have properly donned life jackets, so they had to be rescued.

Another way to stay safe when visiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area is to remember there is wildlife. Haynes said the area is home to desert tortoises and different types of birds, coyotes, and rattlesnakes. 

“They’re everywhere in this park. There’s not a location in this park where we don’t have those wildlife. We urge people to drive safely, drive slowly,” Haynes said. “It’s not just about the other traffic on the road, although we do have a huge variety of bikers, hikers and everything else. You need to be aware we also have wildlife that can be damaged.”

The area also has rentals available for a variety of watercraft, such as jetskis, paddle boards, houseboats, and the guided Desert Princess boat. 

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