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Cold Water Shock Kills

The most common misunderstanding about swimming in Lake Tahoe is that people can suffer from hypothermia, which leads to death.  

The real truth is that “cold water shock” will kill much quicker than hypothermia ever will. And it has. 

“Swimming ability has nothing to do with cold water shock,” according to Chief Park Ranger Jay Howard of Nevada State Parks at Sand Harbor. “Cold Water Shock affects all people, no matter how healthy or strong they are.” This is especially true at Tahoe’s elevation of 6,223 feet. 

If swimmers are properly adjusted to the temperature, the top 12 inches of the lake are normally okay to swim in due to warming from the sun. The water may still be in the low 60’s in June and can be 68-70 by August. The next foot of water will be a constant 56 degrees, down to 45 degrees a few hundred feet down. Lake Tahoe is 1,644 feet at its deepest point. 

“Six feet down is a whole different ball game,” said Howard. “Life jackets are always the answer.” 



Never swim alone. Tell a friend before boating, swimming, or paddling. 

Take your time getting used to the water. Wade in from the beach until you are accustomed to the temperature. 

Go into the water feet first. Diving increases risk dramatically!

When a swimmer’s head goes under cold water, they will have an involuntary gasp. The gasp brings water into the lungs. There is a much higher chance of survival when that first gasp is above water. 

Wear a life preserver. 

Check the weather for wind conditions at before going out.


Read more from local new sources here.