Boating on Lake Tahoe: Rules of the Lake

Lake Tahoe, on the California and Nevada border.
Lake Tahoe, on the California and Nevada border.

Taking a Boat Tour Around Lake Tahoe, California

By Oscar Davis

lake tahoe concert
A concert on the shore of Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe has always been a special place for boaters in the American West.

Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, it’s about 1,644 feet deep. To put that into perspective, you could completely submerge the famous Empire State Building in New York, which stands at 1,454 feet at the tip.

Tahoe Legends

It’s the second deepest lake in the United States and one of the deepest in the world. Lake Tahoe is full of legends due to the incredible depth of the lake.

It was once widely believed that mobsters used to deposit dead bodies of their victims to sink to the bottom of the lake.  But divers combed the bottom at nearly 2000 feet down in 2016 and found old trees, sunken boats–but they found no bodies, confirming the story is false.

From mountains to landscapes to starry nights, Lake Tahoe is an immaculate region to explore in the coming months. The video in the story outlines how Lake Tahoe is getting ready to have visitors return in 2020 and 2021.

This lake is partially located in Nevada and California. In order to enjoy the lake safely, below we are listing some of the rules for boaters that everyone must comply with to go boating on Lake Tahoe in 2020.

How Long Does It Take to Go Around Tahoe?

The shoreline of Lake Tahoe is slightly over 70 miles.  Tahoe is known for the clarity of its water and the panorama of surrounding mountains on all sides

Because of the surrounding terrain, it is much quicker to travel by boat around the edge of the lake than it is to drive the perimeter. If you are traveling slowly, it can take roughly seven hours to circle the lake. At a quickened pace, this trip will be much shorter. If you are in a fast boat, make sure that you are following the speed and wake ordinances in each particular part of the route.

Don’t Come to Tahoe it with a 2-stroke Boat Motor

Older motorboats were once equipped with carbureted two-stroke motors, which require mixing of the gas and oil and create many, many times worse air pollution than four-strokes. Therefore, carburated two-stroke motors are banned from Tahoe, only fuel injected two and four-stroke motors are permitted. If you try to bring the older motors to the lake, you can be subject to a $5000 fine.

What Should I Expect?

Quagga/zebra mussels lake Tahoe
Quagga/zebra mussels are highly invasive and officials inspect each boat to keep them out of Lake Tahoe.

It is important to know the challenges and activities that you will come in contact with during your trip around Lake Tahoe.

First, you will have the opportunity to experience the beauty of a lake that is unmatched across the entire country. It’s the deepest and one of the most spectacular lakes in the world!

Under those thousands of feet of water are a vast array of fish, including sturgeon, which incredibly, can grow to a length of up to 22 feet!

The boating authorities at Lake Tahoe will likely need to inspect your boat and trailer for the presence of quagga/zebra mussels and other harmful species.

These inspections are performed to ensure the safety and survival of local marine life.  Don’t try to refuse these inspections, or you won’t be able to enjoy a day of Tahoe boating.

The Dam Cafe in Tahoe: This little coffee shop is right across from the Truckee River outlet and Fanny Bridge right on the "Y" of highway 89 and 28.
The Dam Cafe in Tahoe: This little coffee shop is right across from the Truckee River outlet and Fanny Bridge right on the “Y” of highways 89 and 28.

Views Everywhere

If you are taking a leisurely trip, there will be many opportunities to grab a drink or a bite to eat.

If you are going for scenic purposes, there will be jaw-dropping views at every turn. From vast views of the lake and mountains to serene wildness, you will be blown away by the consistent beauty.

But be aware too, that at Lake Tahoe there are strict rules about boating and drinking.

You can get another $5000 fine if you are caught being over California’s .08 alcohol limit while behind the boat tiller.

Tahoe’s No-Wake Zones

There are a few challenges that you may experience during your trip. The regulations over certain parts of the lake can change throughout the entire experience. You may travel for miles in a no-wake zone and experience lulls where you must travel carefully and smoothly.

Tahoe’s no-wake zone extends six hundred feet out from shore around the entire lake. The posted speed limit in the no-wake zone is 5 MPH. This zone is enforced by patrol boats at all times. The no-wake zone is important to prevent damage to the lake’s docks, the boats tied up at the docks, and to protect the shoreline and wildlife.

Where to Find a Picnic Lunch on Lake Tahoe
  • T’s Mesquite Rotisserie. Incline Village
  • Simple Bliss. South Lake Tahoe
  • Keys Cafe
  • Burger Me
  • Sprouts Café
  • Front Street Station Pizza Company
  • Freshies Restaurant
  • Base Camp Pizza Dam Cafe

Following this, there will be stretches of your ride that allow you to coast without being inhibited. During unfortunate circumstances, you will see wildfires spurring from the dense areas during the dry months of the year.

How Do I Prepare?

It is important to prepare properly for your trip to Lake Tahoe. Depending on the time of year that you travel, it will likely be chilly outside. Make sure that you are equipped to be on the boat for an extended period of time.

In addition, you will want to have snacks and stops scheduled to ensure that you are able to consume the food that you need to stay satiated throughout the day. See the sidebar on the right for the many places to find a picnic for your trip.

After getting your belongings in check, make sure that your boat is prepared to operate smoothly. If you have exciting new assets that you have been wanting to adorn your boat with, a vacation is a perfect opportunity to do so.

Lake Tahoe boating
An outboard motorboat with a Stryker T-Top on Lake Tahoe.

Around the lake, you will likely see boats adorned with Stryker T-Tops. These stylish tops will help the boat be more comfortable, shady, and stylish during its time on Lake Tahoe.

Final Thoughts on Lake Tahoe

When you are on a boat, you do not have to be in constant worry about masks and physical distancing protocols.

You will have the opportunity to experience nature without the stress of crowds.

When planning your vacation for next year, strategically choose destinations that offer beauty, adventure, and boating opportunities, like Lake Tahoe in California!

Oscar DavisOscar Davis is a freelance writer and backpacking fan from Leeds, UK.

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