The Memorial Day weekend is typically a busy one at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and the larger crowds often mean more incidents than usual. The park is taking steps this weekend and throughout the summer to promote safe boating, including a fee waiver for boaters for the holiday.
Several previous stories on the Traveler about safety-related topics promoted some reader comments about the need for parks to be more proactive in dealing with recurring accident issues. Lake Mead, which has a history of water-related incidents, is trying some new ideas in that regard, and for many Americans, nothing speaks louder than money.
According to a park spokesman, "Boaters who've taken the time to complete a boater education course are being rewarded with free boating over Memorial Day weekend. Visitors simply need to present proof of having completed a National Association of Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) approved boating education course. The waiver of lake use fees is good from Saturday, May 28 through Monday, May 30 on Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, and represents a savings of $16 per vessel."
NASBLA approved courses include those offered by any state, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or organizations like the United States Power Squadrons. Proof may be in the form of a boater education card or certificate of completion. Most states offer free boating safety correspondence courses as well as courses on the internet for a fee.
Similar programs have been used by the states of Nevada and Arizona in their boating education efforts as an incentive for boaters to complete state boater education courses. Entrance stations at Lake Mead will keep track of how many visitors take advantage of the offer, which was first announced in the local area in March. Park officials say it has already resulted in additional publicity "by starting the boating safety conversation in the news media weeks earlier than in previous years."
In Nevada, the fee waiver is a part of a $40,000 summer boating safety campaign organized by the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Lake Mead concessionaires Forever Resorts, Lake Mead Cruises, and Seven Crown Resorts have participated with donations.
"Statistics show that the majority of boaters who are involved in accidents report that they haven’t completed a formal boating education course," said Superintendent Bill Dickinson.
U.S. Coast Guard statistics reported in 2009 that 78 percent of boating accidents and 86 percent of boat fatalities involved operators with no formal boating education.
"The more boaters we have following the boating rules of the road, the safer boating will be for everyone," said Dave Pfiffner, Nevada’s boating law administrator. According to Pfiffner, Nevada mandates that boaters born on or after January 1, 1983, complete a boating education course before operating a motorboat of more than 15 horsepower on Nevada's interstate waters. These waters include lakes Mead and Mohave.
Safety efforts at the park won't be limited to the holiday weekend. Employing the "catch them doing something right" principle, park rangers and state game wardens will be giving out t-shirts throughout the summer to kids who are caught wearing their life jacket. The park has also purchased over 1000 children's life jackets that will be distributed to visitors. This will provide both interpretive and protection rangers the opportunity to initiate more positive visitor contacts.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area is the nation's fifth most visited national park. Over a Memorial Day weekend, the park typically receives between 150,000 to 200,000 visits. The boating safety fee waiver only applies to the lake use fee and doesn't affect annual pass holders, entrance fees for vehicles and individuals, camping fees, or fees charged by concessionaires.