Boating on Lake Tahoe: Your Questions Answered

Boating On Lake Tahoe

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If you are planning a vacation to Lake Tahoe the first thing you would probably do is head to Google and try and find some information about what boats are allowed and other important questions for your trip. 

I have done the same in the past and came up with absolutely no answers to my questions about boating on Lake Tahoe. That is why I decided to write this article! I wanted to help all of my fellow boaters out and give them the information that is virtually impossible to find online. 

This article will be broken up into common questions about boating on Lake Tahoe and then the answer to that question will be below it. If you have a question that you can’t seem to find anywhere online feel free to ask it in the comments at the bottom and I will try and answer it as thoroughly as possible. 

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Are Houseboats Allowed on Lake Tahoe? 

There aren’t any specific laws prohibiting houseboats from going on Lake Tahoe however there are some difficulties that make a houseboat less than ideal.

Because of the depth of the lake anchoring a houseboat overnight is difficult if not impossible. Beaching a houseboat is also not really an option on Lake Tahoe. Assuming you aren’t able to anchor or beach the boat that would mean at night while you are sleeping the boat could drift causing some SERIOUS issues! 

There are also specific engine requirements for Lake Tahoe. Your boat’s engine must be either be a direct fuel injected 2 stroke or a 4 stroke motor. 

The combination of those two issues make taking a houseboat on Lake Tahoe less than ideal for most people and taking your houseboat on and off the lake every day is often far more hassle than it is worth. 

Can you boat on Lake Tahoe?

Yes, you absolutely can boat on Lake Tahoe but there are a few restrictions. Those boat restrictions are:

  • Your boat must have a four stroke motor or a direct fuel injected two stroke motor. 
  • Your boat must be inspected before launch to ensure there are no aquatic invasive species that are on board or attached to the underside
  • Properly prepare your boat for inspection. If your boat is not properly prepared you will have to pay a decontamination fee which varies depending on the extent of the decontamination required.  
  • Before inspection you must entirely clean your boat of all mud, sand, vegetation, etc. on surfaces that touch water. 
  • Before inspection you must drain all the water on board your boat including water from the bilge, ballast tanks, live wells, sea strainers, and all intakes. 
  • Before inspection you must dry all compartments, life jackets, toys, etc. Any water on board your boat will cause you to fail inspection and you will be required to pay for decontamination. 
  • Pay the inspection/ launch fees. Currently $75 for vessels under 17’ and $95 for larger boats for unlimited inspection for a calendar year. 
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Can You Row on Lake Tahoe?

Yes, you can absolutely row on Lake Tahoe. There are many people that use kayaks, canoes, or simply rowboats on the lake. There are even multiple marked “water trails” that you can follow with specific routes along the shoreline mapped out with mileage and places to stay after each day trip. 

More information about paddling on Lake Tahoe can be found at the Lake Tahoe Water Trail website. 

How Long Does It Take to Boat Across Lake Tahoe?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is… it depends. It not only depends on how fast your boat is traveling but it also depends on which point you are starting and finishing at. 

At its largest point, Lake Tahoe is 12 miles by 22 miles. If your boat travels at 10mph and you plan on going across at the largest points it would take you a little over an hour for the 12 mile stretch and a little over 2 hours for the 22 mile stretch. 

Lake Tahoe’s shoreline is 72 miles around so if you wanted to sail all the way around the shoreline it would take you approximately 7 hours to go in a circle around the lake’s shoreline (assuming you are traveling at 10mph). 

Why Are Two Stroke Engines Banned on Lake Tahoe?

Two stroke engines that aren’t direct fuel injected pollute at quite a high rate which is why they have been banned on Lake Tahoe. A two stroke motor will normally burn oil along with the fuel and will put much of that unburnt oil into the air. 

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A four stroke motor burns just fuel so it doesn’t put as many pollutants into the air. The Lake Tahoe governing body has taken great steps in previous years to make sure to keep the Lake as pristine as possible to keep it enjoyable for many generations to come. 

The banning of boat motors that are giant polluters as well as the required inspections for boats adds a little hassle but help protect the beautiful scenery. 

Can I Take My Boat On Lake Tahoe?

Yes, you can most definitely take your own boat on Lake Tahoe but it must meet the requirements for the engine as well as get an inspection every time that you put your boat in and out of the water. 

Your boat is required to have a 2 stroke direct injection motor or a 4 stroke motor to be allowed on the lake. It also must meet the inspection requirements mentioned above to be eligible to go on the lake. 

Can You Sleep on Your Boat on Lake Tahoe?

You can certainly sleep on board your boat while on Lake Tahoe as long as it has the required equipment and room to sleep. 

The main issue with sleeping on the lake is that it is difficult to find a location to anchor your boat properly which makes sleeping overnight more difficult. You can sleep in shifts or maybe mind a spot closer to the shore where it is more shallow but all it takes is the anchor moving a little during the night and you can quickly find your boat in a heap of trouble. 

How Much Does it Cost to Launch a Boat in Lake Tahoe?

Launch fees vary greatly depending on where you intend to launch your boat. There are some places that have free launches but charge you for parking where other places will charge you just a launch fee. 

There are also currently 6 public launch sites that you can use that as of this writing don’t charge a fee to launch your boat. 

On top of launch fees you will also have to pay an inspection fee to have your boat inspected. You can pay for a single inspection but it is only a few dollars more to get as many inspections as you need for a calendar year so most people go that route. 

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Do You Need a Boating License in Lake Tahoe? 

Since Lake Tahoe is party in Nevada and partly in California it really depends on which side of the lake you are on whether you need a license or not. 

In Nevada, anyone born after January 1, 1983 is required to take a boater safety course to be able to pilot a boat. Anyone born before that date is not required to take a course. 

In California, the law is a little more confusing as they are phasing in the law over a number of years. As of:

January 1, 2020 anyone 35 and younger is required to have a California Boater Card

January 1, 2021 anyone 40 and younger is required to have a California Boater Card

January 1, 2022 anyone 45 and younger is required to have a California Boater Card

January 1, 2023 anyone 50 and younger is required to have a California Boater Card

January 1, 2024 anyone 55 and younger is required to have a California Boater Card

January 1, 2025 Everyone is required to have a California Boater Card

The California Boater Card is essentially a boating license for the state of California. Once you take the course it never expires so you don’t have to retest (unless California changes the law again).

Now the question becomes what if you don’t need a license in Nevada because of your age but you would need a license in California? How would that be handled? Because the phase in process is still taking place in California no one really knows for sure what would happen! 

However for peace of mind, and since it’s only around $30, I personally just went ahead and took the online course to make sure I don’t run into any issues boating on Lake Tahoe in the future. 

There are certainly many more questions about Lake Tahoe that I could have covered but these are some of the most popular questions that don’t really have good answers available online (until now). If you have other questions about boating in Lake Tahoe or boating in general please leave a comment below. 

As Always, 

Happy Boating

Matthew Robbs

I love the outdoors and especially spending time with my family. Whether on a boat or at the beach, my happy place is near the water.

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