Officials hit waterways to urge safety

Inspections set for Lake Mead this weekend


Game Warden Virgil Hayden hands a fire extinguisher back to personal watercraft operator Mike Gilbert on Friday during a safety inspection on Lake Mead that Gilbert passed.
Photo by Gary Thompson.

Two red pennants flap in the wind Friday at Lake Mead to warn boaters about gale wind conditions.
Photo by Gary Thompson.

Two red pennants to warn boaters about gale conditions flapped in a southwest breeze Friday at the entrance to Hemenway Harbor's launch ramp at Lake Mead.
It was a fitting precursor for the Memorial Day safety briefing at the harbor by the National Park Service and the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Rangers and game wardens wanted to get the word out that they will be patrolling the lake and stopping boats for safety checks aimed at preventing tragedies before they can happen.
"Last week a canoe capsized and we had to pull four kids out of the water. They all had their life jackets on," said Virgil Hayden, a Nevada game warden who enforces boating laws on the lake along with rangers from the park service.

"When the wind blows and comes out of the canyon, it can look like the ocean out here," he said.
Boaters should know that a single red pennant hoisted on a pole flanking the boat ramp designates a small-craft warning with winds to 38 mph. Two red pennants signals a gale warning with winds to 54 mph. One square black flag with a red border indicates a storm warning with winds to 73 mph. And, two red-bordered black flags means hurricane conditions with winds 74 mph or more.
With lower than normal temperatures throughout the Memorial Day weekend, including a 40 percent chance of rain showers today, park officials don't anticipate dense crowds will flock to Lake Mead's beaches in Boulder Basin as in holiday weekends of past years when conditions were calm and temperatures ranged to 90 degrees or more.
The weather coupled with higher gasoline prices might keep the crowds thinner and more manageable during the weekend, park spokeswoman Roxanne Dey said.
Nevertheless, she said, those who come out on lakes Mead and Mohave should wear life jackets, watch the weather and not operate boats under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The National Weather Service forecast for Las Vegas Valley calls for partly sunny skies with highs in the upper 60s and 10 mph winds out of the southeast this afternoon along with that 40 percent chance of showers.
Sunday will be warmer with highs in the lower 70s and a 10 mph southwest wind.
Memorial Day will be mostly sunny with highs in the upper 70s.
On Friday, though, a strong wind out of the southwest sent white-capped waves rolling across the middle of Lake Mead.
An unseasonably strong low pressure system from the Pacific Northwest moved in to set a new record for May for low barometric pressure. At 4:40 p.m., the barometer at McCarran International Airport, the valley's official monitoring site, dropped to 29.27 inches. The previous record for May of 29.28 inches was set in 1975.
Earlier in the day, as gusty winds shot across the lake, Hayden unwrapped the rope that was holding his patrol boat against the dock and headed out for routine boat safety checks.
"This weekend is a time for everyone to come out and enjoy the lake. We just want them to be safe at all times," he said.
Among the regulations he intends to enforce on both the Nevada and Arizona portions of the lake is the joint-state requirement that children 13 years old and younger wear Coast Guard approved life jackets, or personal flotation devices, while in boats under way.
Failing to do so could result in a ticket that comes with a $187 fine.
On safety stops, children with life jackets are given free T-shirts from the Department of Wildlife that read, "Hop to it. Wear your life jackets.
Reckless operation of personal watercraft, including spraying other operators with a fast-speed wake, could result in fines of $107 to $400, Hayden said.
"It's a safety issue we take very seriously," he said.
Regardless of the activity, even for slow-moving vessels, Hayden said, "I don't need a reason to pull you over. If you're operating a boat ... we can conduct safety inspections."
A short time later he flipped on the patrol boat's lights and siren and made a safety stop on a personal watercraft operator.
The operator, Mike Gilbert, passed the inspection. He was wearing a lanyard that would shut off the engine in case he fell off the craft. He had current registration decals displayed. And, a fire extinguisher was onboard.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at or 702-383-0308.