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How To Stay Safe on Ice

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Updated January 23, 2014

Regardless how well a victim can swim, ice cold water can cause severe hypothermia in less than 30 minutes - leaving the victim too weak to get out of the frigid water.

Safety on the ice requires preparation and diligence. You should try going on the ice the first time with an experienced person. Before you venture out, learn how to stay safe on the ice.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: Slow and easy

Here's How:

  1. Never go on the ice alone. Naturally occuring ice is unpredictable. Make sure you have proper safety equipment and a buddy.

     

  2. Wear a personal flotation device (PFD) (buy now) under your winter gear. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources advises NOT to wear a PFD in a closed vehicle. The excess bulk may make it difficult to escape from a car - especially through a window.

     

  3. Wear appropriate footwear. Crampons (buy now) are used to convert footwear for use on the ice. Some use metal spikes and some use cables - similar to tire chains.

     

  4. Carry ice picks at all times. Put them in an accessible pocket where they will be easy to reach while floating in the water.

     

  5. Carry a throw rope with you. You can buy one, or make one using an empty and clean plastic jug stuffed with nylon rope.

     

  6. Stopping on ice is extremely difficult. When snowmobiling or driving in low-visibility conditions, go slow enough to be able to stop if you see something. Many vehicle accidents happen because the driver couldn't stop by the time he or she saw the hole in the ice.

     

  7. When driving, remove your seatbelt (since you're going slow and easy) and your PFD (see Step 2). Keep your window rolled down to facilitate a quick escape if your car falls through the ice.

     

  8. Make sure you know how to escape from ice, and that you know how to help someone escape ice.

Tips:

  1. Gauging the strength of ice is very difficult. There is no such thing as 100% safe ice.
    • Never walk or drive on cloudy ice
    • Only go on clear, thick ice
    • Spring ice is NEVER safe
    • The thickness of ice is never consistent - it will be flat on top, but not on the bottom
    • Snow on ice acts as an insulator - it makes ice warmer and weaker
    • Extreme cold snaps will weaken the ice
    • Ice formed over running water (rivers & streams) is more dangerous than ice formed over standing water (lakes & ponds)
  2. General ice thickness guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Natural Services (new, clear ice only):
    • Less than 2 inches - STAY OFF!
    • 4" and thicker - probably safe for walking and ice fishing on foot
    • 5" and thicker - probably safe for ATV or snowmobiling
    • 8-12" and thicker - probably safe for small cars or light pickups
    • 12-15" and thicker - probably safe for medium trucks
  3. Noisy ice doesn't necessarily mean unsafe ice. It's just the layer of ice shifting and moving on top of the water.
  4. The safety of ice is ever-changing. It depends on a multitude of factors.
    • thickness
    • age of the ice
    • temperature
    • snow cover
    • depth of water under the ice
    • size of the body of water under the ice
    • water chemistry
    • currents
    • local climate
    • distribution of weight on the ice
  5. Your most important tool is common sense.

What You Need:

  • Crampons (shoe spikes for walking on ice)
  • Personal flotation device
  • Throw rope
  • Set of ice picks
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