For Ice fishing, ice skating, snowmobiling and other activities that may find us wondering if it's safe to venture onto a frozen pond or lake.

Ice doesn't always form in a uniform thickness over a water body. So people can sometimes feel that the ice is safe in one place, when it's actually very thin nearby. That false sense of security can have deadly consequences.

Here are a few guidelines for ice safety that could save your life.

Before venturing onto the ice the first thing you should know..


Never assume the ice - on any water body - is thick enough to support your weight. Check it! Start at the shoreline and, using an auger, spud or axe, make test holes at intervals as you proceed.
The American Pulpwood Association has developed a table for judging the relative safety of ice on lakes and streams. This is just a guide; use your own good judgement before going out on any ice. Avoid areas of moving water, including where streams enter the lake, and around spillways and dams.
Ice Thickness Permissible Load
2 inches one person on foot
3 inches group in single file
7.5 inches one car (2 tons)
8 inches light truck (2.5 tons)
10 inches truck (3.5 tons)
12 inches heavy truck (7-8 tons)
15 inches 10 tons
20 inches 25 tons

Note: This guide is based on clear, blue, hard ice on non-running waters. Slush ice is about 50 percent weaker. Clear, blue ice over running water is about 20 percent weaker. Many ice anglers do not like to fish on less than five inches of ice, and do not like to drive a pick-up truck on less than 15 inches of ice. Remember this is just a Guide, Use common sense before venturing out onto the lake or river!

Here are a few ice safety tips that ice fishermen and winter sports enthusiasts should keep in mind before venturing out on a frozen lake.

Go out with a buddy and keep a good distance apart as you walk out. If one of you goes in the other can call for help.

Leave information about your plans with someone -- where you intend to fish and when you plan to return.

Wear a life jacket. Life vests or float coats provide excellent flotation and protection from hypothermia (loss of body temperature).

Check for known thin ice areas with a local bait shop. Using the above Guide, test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel, an auger, spud, axe or even a cordless drill with a 6 inch or longer bit make test holes at intervals as you proceed.

If you must drive a vehicle. be prepared to leave it in a hurry - keep windows down, unbuckle your seat belt and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers. Don't drive across ice at night or when it is snowing. Reduced visibility increases your chances for driving into an open or weak ice area.

Don't "overdrive" your headlight's. At even 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was travelling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated the hole in the ice.

Wear a life vest under your winter gear or one of the new flotation snowmobile suits. And it's a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be purchased from most well stocked sporting goods stores. It's amazing how difficult it can be to pull yourself back onto the surface of unbroken but wet and slippery ice with a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 lbs of water. The ice picks really help pulling yourself back onto solid ice.

CAUTION: Do NOT wear a flotation device when travelling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle!

Having taken all of these precautions, you're now going to try your luck at fishing. Walking out on the ice, you hear a crack and break through. Suddenly you find yourself immersed up to your neck in water so cold it takes your breath away. If you think that's no big deal, try holding your hands in a bucket of ice water for more than a couple of minutes. If you can do it without extreme pain, you are tougher than the average person.

Try not to panic. Instead, remain calm and turn toward the direction you came from. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface of the ice (here's where the ice picks come in handy.) Work forward on the ice by kicking your feet. If the ice breaks, maintain your position and slide forward again. Once you are lying on the ice, don't stand. Instead, roll away from the hole. That spreads out your weight until you are on solid ice. This sounds much easier than it is to do. The best advice is don't put yourself into needless danger by venturing out too soon or too late in the season. No angler, no matter how big of a fishing enthusiast, would want to die for a crappie.

  • Keep calm and think out a solution.

  • Don't run up to the hole. You'll probably break through and then there will be two victims.

  • Use some item on shore to throw or extend to the victim to pull them out of the water such as a tree limb, rope, jumper cables or skis, or push your ice fishing sled ahead of you.

  • If you can't rescue the victim immediately, call 911. It's amazing how many people carry cellphones.

  • Get medical assistance for the victim.

Carry a set of hand spikes. Ice picks work well or you can make these at home, using large nails, or you can purchase good ones at stores that sell fishing supplies. Screwdrivers will also work.
Carry a 50' safety rope that can be thrown to someone who has gone through the ice.
If you have a cell phone, bring it along, it could prove to be vital for your party or somebody else.

Occurs when the skin and subcutaneous tissue begins freezing. It can be easily remedied if detected in the early stages, or severe enough to require amputation of the affected areas. Symptoms become apparent when the skin turns waxy white, to yellow and is hard and cold to the touch. Initial pain turns into numbness. Toes, fingers, nose, ears and cheeks are the most vulnerable. If you suspect frostbite, warm the affected area by pressing it against a warm part of the body or immerse in luke-warm water (104-110 deg.F). Excessively hot water will damage the fragile tissue. Rubbing a frostbitten area in the more advanced stages will also cause damage. Avoid tobacco products because nicotine will restrict vital blood circulation. Finally, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Despite all the precautions that anglers take, a few go through the ice each year, and all ice anglers should know something about rescue techniques and first aid for hypothermia. Drowning is one immediate danger, But usually the victims are able to keep their heads above water by clinging to the edge of the broken ice or to floating gear. Most fatalities are caused by hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body begins to lose heat faster than it can produce it. The symptoms become apparent, and include; uncontrollable shivering, slow or slurred speech, incoherence, fumbling hands, stumbling, apparent exhaustion, drowsiness which causes loss of the use of limbs, disorientation, unconsciousness and, finally, heart failure.

In Both Above Cases, If a person shows any signs of overexposure to cold or wet and windy weather, take the following measures, even if the person claims to be in no difficulty. Often the person will not realize the seriousness of the situation. If your party is out on the ice with no shelter, seek out a shanty for heat and protection from the elements. Get the person into dry clothing with a warm (not hot) water bottle of some sort, concentrate heat on the torso. Supply warm drinks. Keep the head low and the feet up to get warm blood circulating to the head. Insulate the victim's trunk, head and neck from additional heat loss. Under no circumstances should the victim be given alcoholic beverages which diminish shivering, thus reducing heat production. Alcohol also causes dilation of surface blood vessels, causing more heat loss. Avoid pain relievers, they will slow the body metabolism. Tobacco products will restrict vital blood circulation. People subjected to cold water may seem fine but after being rescued can suffer a potentially fatal condition called "after-drop". That may occur when cold blood that is pooled in the body's extremities starts to circulate again as the victim starts to rewarm. Summon a vehicle to get to shore and arrange medical help. Call for professional medical assistance immediately. This is when a cell phone could come in handy. Hypothermia and frost bite should only be treated at a hospital.

Fortunately, rescue and first aid are very seldom necessary. However, since the sport is constantly attracting newcomers and since even veterans are subject to occasional human error, it's best that anglers be prepared for any unexpected situation and learn emergency measures even though they may never have to apply them.

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