Lake Mead, Nevada is one of the most visited lakes in the country. The beautiful scenery and wildlife make this lake a desirable destination for the local population and tourists alike. With such a strong attraction to recreationists, it is not surprising that the crowd brings with it an increased occurrence of physical accidents. Specifically, the incidence of boating accidents is of particular interest. Is Lake Mead a site for more frequent accidents than other lakes? And if so, what are the contributing factors to these occurrences?
The Nevada News reported in 2013 that Lake Mead has a boating accident ranking of fifth in the nation, with a count of 519 accidents in a five-year period. It is also noteworthy to mention that of the top ten on the list, four of them were in the close vicinity of southern Nevada, with the Colorado River ranking second at 726 boating accidents in a five-year period. The list was compiled using statistics from the years 1997 to 2001.
Lake Mead Popularity
There is speculation as to why this might be the case. The rankings do not take into account the size of the bodies of water or the popularity of its characteristics. Lake Mead is one of the top destinations for recreation nationwide, receiving between 8 and 10 million visitors every year. While local residents make frequent use of the lake, it is an aquatic tourist attraction for multiple reasons. In many places a lake’s use is limited seasonally, southern Nevada has a climate that allows for year-round use of Lake Mead. This explains the many visitors from surrounding states, where boating is not possible due to seasonal weather changes. There is also the matter of variety in how you can enjoy the lake’s natural amenities; there are boaters but there are also canoers, kayakers, fishermen, scuba divers, and swimmers. There is something for everyone. This lake is also quite large, covering an area of 247 square miles, the largest reservoir in the United States when full. This quality is important to many of the lake’s visitors, as it can accommodate a large number of boaters without the fear and annoyance of over-crowding, which is a major problem in nearby California.
The popularity that results from these various aspects of Lake Mead has a consequence of its own. As with anything, more people is equivalent to more accidents. This is likely one of the largest contributing factors to the boating accident rate for this particular reservoir.
There are many that visit Lake Mead for a good time, and unfortunately sometimes that good time is not a responsible good time. There are reports each year of boating accidents resulting from someone driving their boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It is very difficult for law enforcement to monitor this type of behavior. While it is well-known and understood that driving under the influence in an automobile is dangerous, many don’t understand its equal danger on the water.
Another hazard on the waters of Lake Mead is the inexperienced drivers. Rentals are a popular option for those visiting the lake. It is a good way to experience the joys of driving a boat if you don’t have one, however many of these people don’t have the proper training and knowledge to responsibly operate a high-powered boat. This often results in reckless driving and sometimes an unfortunate accident. Nevada adopted a law in hopes of reducing these occurrences where anyone under 21 needs to obtain a boat education certificate.
The reservoir is decreasing in water level each year, which uncovers rocks and other obstructions. Sometimes these are just below the surface of the water and boaters do not have awareness of them until it is too late to avoid them. This is not only damaging to a boat, it can result in serious injuries.
Other Boat Accident Causes
As stated above, the Colorado River is also a hub for boating accidents. The causes of these accidents are various and can be seen throughout the length of the Colorado River:
- There are frequent accounts of contact with submerged hazards such as rocks and sandbars. It is important to be careful, even in familiar waters, as sandbars can be moved by the current and be in a different place than it was in a previous trip.
- It is common to find rafters all along this river, which presents an added hazard for unwary boat drivers.
- The proximity to dams has been an issue for boats that have gotten too close and gone over the spillway, which would have a tragic outcome.
- There is often turbulent water downstream of a dam, which has caused boats to be drawn into the spillway.
- Boats have run into bridge pilings causing injuries and fatalities.
- Alcoholic consumption and subsequent operation of a boat is a major contributor to the rate of boat accidents on this river. This is just as dangerous as driving under the influence in an automobile.
- Riding on the bow of boat where there is no railing, which is illegal, is a cause of injury and death, and frequently occurs on the Colorado River. A passenger may fall from the bow and be injured or killed by the boat’s propeller.
The state of California released a safety guidelines document to help those that will be using the Colorado River, in hopes of educating and avoiding preventable accidents in the future. This document can be found here: https://dbw.ca.gov/Pubs/Col_Riv/ColoradoRiver.pdf