Ice Safety Tips

February 7, 2009 by  

By ND Game & Fish

Anglers and trappers are urged to be aware of ice conditions before venturing out on frozen waters, cautions Nancy Boldt, boat and water safety coordinator for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

“Before going out onto a frozen lake, pond or river, it’s important to take safety precautions to reduce the risk of falling through the ice,” Boldt said. “Knowing how to judge ice conditions will also help in making a more informed decision.”

Boldt cautions recreationists to be aware of snow-covered ice. Snow insulates ice, inhibiting solid ice formation, and makes it difficult to check thickness. Snow also hides cracked, weak and open water areas. “Stay away from cracks, pressure ridges, slushy or darker areas that signify thinner ice, and ice that forms around partially submerged objects, such as trees, brush, embankments or structures,” Boldt said.


Ice thickness is not consistent, Boldt mentioned, as it can vary significantly within a few inches. “Ice shouldn’t be judged strictly by appearance,” she added. “It is always a good idea for anglers to drill test holes as they venture out onto a lake.”

Daily changes in temperature cause ice to expand and contract, Boldt said, which affects its strength. “It is always good to talk to people at local bait shops, or other anglers, if you are not familiar with a lake.”

The Game and Fish Department recommends the following minimums for travel on clear- blue lake ice formed under ideal conditions. However, early in the winter Boldt advises doubling these figures to be safe: four inches for a group of people walking single file; five and one‑half to six inches for a snowmobile or all‑terrain vehicle; eight to 12 inches for an automobile; and 12-15 inches for a pickup/truck.

Boldt also suggests wearing a personal flotation device and carrying a cell phone while on the ice. Also, an ice chisel should be used to check ice thickness while moving around, and ice picks or a set of screwdrivers should be carried to pull yourself back on the ice in case you fall through.

If someone falls through the ice, act quickly by calling 911. Attempt to reach the victim with a long pole, board, rope, blanket or snowmobile suit. If that isn’t possible, throw the victim a life jacket, empty water jug or other buoyant object. Go to the victim as the last resort. Should this be necessary, a human chain, in which rescuers lie on the ice with each person grasping the feet of the person in front, is an effective technique.

Treat a hypothermia victim by removing wet clothing and replacing it with dry clothing. An effective treatment is to place the victim in a sleeping bag, if available, with another person. Immediately transport the victim to a hospital.


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