Pleasant day at lake can turn deadly for boaters caught in monsoon

LAKE PLEASANT – Law enforcement and recreation officials are urging boaters to practice safety during an intense monsoon season.

Waves as high as eight feet have endangered boaters at Lake Pleasant, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

“Some officers have worked here over 20 years and never seen a storm this big,” deputy sheriff Jacob Bowes said.

MCSO rescued 10 people from Lake Pleasant during a weekend long monsoon in July.

People need to take safety precautions in any activity on the water, whether boating, water or jet skiing, swimming or paddling on a board.

“One woman was hospitalized with life threatening complications. She wasn’t wearing a life jacket,” Bowes said. “If we were a minute late, she probably wouldn’t have made it.”

Bowes and Josh Hoffman, a spokesman for Arizona Game and Fish and an experienced boater offered several safety tips:

Always wear a life jacket. “Everyone should already be wearing life jackets. Regardless of a storm,” Hoffman said.

Also make sure life jackets fit properly before entering the water, according to Arizona Game and Fish, which offers boating education courses.

Maricopa County and state officials urge boaters on Lake Pleasant to take safety measures during the monsoon season. (Photo by Devin Conley/ Cronkite News)

Don’t overload a boat with passengers. When approaching the shore after the storm began to pass Dominic and Dianah Janeway, paired with their two daughters and dog, noticed another boat thrown ashore, calling for help.

“They had too many people on the boat,” Dominic said. “That can cause some real trouble.”

Having too many people on boats can cause real damage and danger as well, Dominic said.

Overloading your boat with too much weight can cause it to capsize, according to Arizona Game and Fish. A “capacity plate” on the boat provides its weight allotment.

Bring extra batteries. “In the middle of a storm is not the right time to find out that your navigation lights or flashlights don’t work,” Hoffman said.

Rely on a radio rather than a cell phone. MCSO suggests using a radio instead of a cell phone. “A lot of the lake doesn’t have cell service,” Bowes said.

Know your location. Sometimes people call the emergency line for help but don’t know where they are, Bowes said. Lake Pleasant has a map of areas such as Horse Island and Humbug Bay. “That’s probably the hardest part of our job, is locating people. “Often people know they are on Lake Pleasant, but there’s more places in Lake Pleasant for us to look,” he said.

Watch the skies. Boaters are advised that the first sign of dark clouds is the time to get off the lake, an MCSO spokesperson said in an email. “Often times, boaters see the clouds and think they have ample time, not realizing the storms are very fast moving and are over the lake within minutes.”

Wait out a storm. The Janeway’s geared up their pontoon boat ready to enjoy a day at the lake. Some items they make sure to have before they leave the shore: life jackets, flashlights, and a fire extinguisher. Last year, they parked their boat in a cove to wait out a storm. “You don’t want to cross the (open) water because that’s when you can get yourself into trouble,” Dianah said. “When the winds pick up the water gets very choppy and wavy. If you find a cove the water is a lot calmer and safer.”

The MCSO spokesperson agreed.

“If caught in the storm, a cove offers great protection. The coves offer high ground on the sides that break the wind and the water is often calmer,” MCSO said. “The worst thing individuals can do is to try and attempt to tie off to an unprotected dock in rough water in a storm. Injury rates increase drastically attempting to tie off to a dock.”

Intense weather from a July monsoon snapped the cables to a lake dock. (Photo by Devin Conley/ Cronkite News)