With Southern California temperatures pushing 100 degrees daily, the desire to seek refuge in anything cool has never been greater.
One of the destinations offering this type of sanctuary is Castaic Lake. With the number of visitors increasing as summer rolls along, the need for safety education is imperative in crowded waters.
For lifeguards Cary Flebby and Ryan Murphy, they hope one particular group pays particular attention to the rules: boaters.
“We get a lot of people who are just eager to use their new boats. They don’t know the simple steps for operating them because they haven’t bothered,” says Flebby.
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Upon arriving at Castaic Lake, boaters using the main reservoir are given a general rules sheet. A few items: Children 11 years of age and younger must wear a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device; the maximum speed limit is 35 miles per hour; swimming is prohibited; consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited; and all boats must travel in a counter clockwise motion.
Both lifeguards encourage novices to take a safety class with either the Department of Boating and Waterways, the United States Coast Guard or even at their community college. Also, both operators and passengers should read the “ABCs of the California Boating Law.”
“We just see too many simple errors,” says Flebby.
Among those errors include neglecting to empty the cleaning tank and forgetting to secure the towing device.
“There’s been a couple of trucks that have slid into the lake.”
Since no license or testing is required to operate a vessel, both Flebby and Murphy have dealt with their share of inexperienced and careless “captains.”
While the age requirement is 16 to steer, Flebby claims it’s not the younger ones who have caused the most trouble, but adults needing to showboat. (Pun intended.)
Speeding is a constant concern, as well as boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and the presence of open containers of alcohol on the vessels.
“We’ve had accidents where people just drove straight into the shore,” says Flebby. “They were going too fast and just quit paying attention.”
Although drivers can cause a nuisance on the water, Lake Aquatic Manager Joe Walsh adds that passengers should do what they can to avoid trouble.
“People tend to stay out on the lake longer when on their boats, and they can suffer heat stroke or exhaustion,” he says. “The way peoples’ boats can rock on the lake, it’s easy to pass out if they aren’t used to the turmoil.”
Walsh calls these conditions “stressors,” among them alcohol consumption and an empty stomach.
Many of these problems occur within a lifeguards’ line of vision, and they can reach boaters swiftly on their own vessels. Boaters can even signal the patrol boaters directly by flagging them down or contacting them on a public radio frequency.
But there’s one section in particular that wants nothing to do with Flebby and Murphy. At the west end of the lake, between a small peninsula and the rocky shore, a subculture of boaters float lazily next to one another, far removed from the combustion of the jet skis, wakeboards and speed boats.
They’re the dedicated fishermen, some of whom are there every day, simply hoping the lake will yield a decent catch.
That’s all well and good with the veteran Flebby, but one thing sticks in his craw: “Why can’t they just stay off the boom lines?”
State law prohibits vessels from docking against any navigational device, such a buoys or boom lines. Instead of buying a deep-sinking anchor (parts of the lake’s west end are 120 feet deep), some fishermen simply tie themselves to the boom lines for quick and cheap support.
Flebby says the lifeguards are concerned about this for two reasons: 1) It’s illegal and 2) It’s unsafe.
According to Flebby, the boom lines can break easily, sending boaters into a dangerous area by the Elderberry Forebay Dam, which separates the lake from a state water supply. When the supply feeds into Castaic Lake, a thick, heavy plume shoots into the air.
This spout lies a few yards away from where these fishermen prefer to dock, but if the boom lines break, their boats can inadvertently trail toward the waterfall. The bubbles in the surrounding area, as well the spout itself, can capsize these often tiny vessels with ease.
Flebby knows the fishermen don’t consider this – or just don’t care – so he makes the rounds in the west end a couple of times per shift, reprimanding them through his boat’s PA system.
Although he may be looked upon as the bad guy, Flebby says he needs to be stern with boaters that don’t know even the simplest of rules.
“It would save both us and the boaters a ton of trouble if they would just educate themselves.”