Lake Havasu's Summer Rite of Passage

By Mike Harris

It is almost a rite of passage for many Southern California college-age kids and their pals: Hitch up the bow rider's trailer to the SUV, pack coolers full of ice and beverages, pile in at least three friends, and head for one of the playtime hot-spots of the West - Arizona's Lake Havasu.

The timing is certainly right. This weekend is Memorial-Day weekend, and visitors will most likely find cloudless skies, a blazing sun, and near 110-degree weather.

What more could a young, hard-body ask for?

Common sense is what Lt. Randy Johnson of the Mohave County Sheriff's Department suggests.

"Our foremost concern is that visitors have an enjoyable, but a safe time," said Johnson.

He and his deputies are there to look for problems and put a quick end to it.

Other agencies patrolling on the lake and along the Colorado include San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department on the California side, Lake Havasu City Police Department, and Arizona Game and Fish and California Fish and Game wardens.

Johnson gives a rough estimate that somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 boats will be out on the Colorado River this weekend, ranging from Parker Dam up to Davis Dam. Many of those boats will be using Lake Havasu as home base.

Focus of the Sheriffs

"We're talking about a smaller body of water, and Lake Havasu can have serious congestion," he said.

The Lake Havasu Convention and Visitor's Bureau confirms that just about every motel and campsite is taken for the Memorial Day weekend.

Depending on the time of day, Mohave County Sheriff's Department will have between seven to nine boats on the lake and maybe another two on the river.

"Our job primarily is law enforcement," he stressed.

The things he and his deputies look for?

"We focus a great deal on OUI (operating under the influence), especially on a holiday weekend," he said.

Mohave County Sheriff's deputies run OUI checkpoints along the river and also do saturation patrol, targeting certain parts of the river.

Additionally, Blankenship Bend is closed during all summer holiday weekends, and a safety lane is enforced for Copper Canyon and in Steamboat Cove.

The most common cause of the accidents that the Mohave County Sheriff's Department investigates is alcohol combined with boater inexperience.

Other concerns?

Another violation that we look for and enforce is children not wearing life jackets," he said. "Actually, we don't see a lot of that on Memorial weekend. We don't see the numbers of families as we do on July 4 weekend."

Protecting People

Other issues about which boaters need to concern themselves?

"Speed," he said. "Speed is a growing concern, especially with the high-powered boats and even PWC (personal watercraft)."

There is no speed limit along the river, although voices are growing that some sort of speed limit should be enforced. How to measure speed and enforcing a speed limit are the problems.

And, while there is no speed limit, there are no-wake zones in some areas, he said, so boaters need to be aware of their locations, such as in Thompson Bay, and a no-wake zone in the south end by the federal wildlife area.

There are also navigation rules to obey, and it is the operator's responsibility to know them. Like driving on the correct side of the river.

Add hot weather and a pounding sun; the combination can spell dehydration and a negative impact on common sense. "What it really gets down to is whether the boat operator is handling the boat in a safe manner," he said.

"Our job is protecting the people," he emphasized. "If the boater is inexperienced, and the majority of accidents out here are caused by an inexperienced boater or lack of attention, our advice is to take a boating-safety course," Johnson said.

A Quick Tip of the Hat

A couple of weekends ago, I did a quick run out to Lake Havasu to see conditions for myself. From all the boats that I saw already using the river, it looks as if it's going to be a very busy season on the Colorado.

I want to especially thank the folks at the Nautical Inn for their hospitality and for the helpful information provided by the Lake Havasu Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

A final thank you goes to Capt. Kenn McKinney who runs the Vessel Assist operation in Lake Havasu. McKinney and his family also operate Bluewater Charters and Jet Boat Tours.

McKinney gave my wife and me guest seats on just about the last tour of the season. His tour boat holds 49 persons, and it was nearly sold out.

The tour takes visitors up the river through the Topak Gorge, and McKinney and his deckhand offer lots of local knowledge about the area. He's probably pulled the boat out of the water for the season by now - it runs September through middle May - to do regular maintenance.

Why not run the tour boat in the summer?

On Their Own Boats

"Oh, people like to be on their own boats in the summer, and also there's just too much boat traffic in the summer in the gorge," he said.

McKinney's Vessel Assist towing operation gets plenty of business in the summer, and that also is another reason to park his tour boat Starship 2010.

Three jet drives power Starship 2010 at a pretty good clip, but we might as well have been tied to the dock that Saturday in early May by the way we were getting passed by the PWCs, bow riders, and even the pontoon boats.

Too fast, I asked him?

"Well, most boaters do pretty good," he said.

I felt bad for the couple in a green canoe who were trying to navigate the gorge and handle all the wakes from speed boats buzzing past both sides of them. They waved, but they didn't look all that happy.

I was glad to be in McKinney's tour boat.

Final word: Have a safe time when you're out there on the water, folks, and watch out for the little guys. I might be one of them.


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