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Lake Mead expects 150K visitors over Memorial Day weekend

An estimated 150,000 people are expected to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area over Memorial Day weekend. And law enforcement officials are ready with game wardens patrolling the waters for lawbreakers and stranded boaters.

“Basically, we do everything that a city of Henderson or Las Vegas Metro cop would do on the street,” Nevada Department of Wildlife Game Warden Chris Walther said. “We’re here to serve the public.”

Reckless operation is one of the most common infractions on the lake, according to Nick Duhe, the department’s boating education coordinator for Southern Nevada.

That includes hanging off a boat while it’s being operated, using a smaller vessel like a personal watercraft such as a Jet Ski to splash other people, or interfering with boats towing skiers or inner tubes. Some people think nothing of it, Duhe said, but one mistake could lead to a collision, injuries or worse.

The most common cause of boat accidents? The combination of drinking and boating.

Boaters can operate a vessel with an open container, unlike drivers, but their blood alcohol level must not exceed the legal .08 limit.

It’s OK to bring alcohol to Lake Mead, but leave the marijuana at home, Duhe said.

Although pot use and possession is legal in the state, “this is a federal park so you can’t come out here and, you know, smoke weed. At all,” he warned.

Walther said alcohol consumption can have fatal consequences on the water. Many drownings at Lake Mead occur when someone not wearing a life vest becomes intoxicated, he said.

Often, a combination of factors contributes, he said. “Obviously the water, the sun, the heat and the alcohol affect you a lot worse than if you were just sitting in your house drinking a beer.”

People also are often cited for not having proper safety equipment on board. Required equipment includes life jackets for every person on board and a throwable flotation device. Children under 13 must wear life jackets on any vessel while it’s being operated.

“It’s similar to, like, traffic. You know, there’s tons of traffic laws. The majority of people are not familiar with all those traffic laws,” Walther said. “Same thing with boaters; we’ve got a lot of complex laws they may not be aware of.”

Walther also recommended keeping a fire extinguisher, an oar and drinking water on board. Be familiar with the controls and mechanics of your vessel and keep an eye out for underwater hazards, such as rocks, which can knock out a motor or tear a hole in a hull, he advised.

He said it’s imperative to check the weather forecast for strong winds or rain, especially during monsoon season, when thunderstorms can develop without warning.

“We get monsoon thunderstorms that just wreak havoc on the boating community,” Walther said.

While many boating enthusiasts are familiar with boating laws, boat rental agencies require renters to watch a 30-minute video on safety and Nevada law, Duhe said.

Walther recommends prospective boaters take a boater safety course.

“It’s a great way to get immersed into the boating lifestyle and get your feet wet with the laws and the regulations of the state.”

In case of an emergency, call 911. Much of the recreation area’s lower basin has cellphone service. Calls are received by the National Park Service dispatch, which can send out a game warden.

For Memorial Day weekend boating, patience is key, Duhe said.

“There’s a lot of water out here,” Duhe said. “There’s a lot of space for everybody, but you’re gonna get parts where people are going to be on the boat ramps. They’re going to have to launch and retrieve their boats.

“You can have a good time while you’re out here,” he said. “Just be respectful and be safe.”

Contact Max Michor at mmichor@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0365. Follow @MaxMichor on Twitter.

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