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How To Perform an Ice Rescue


Updated January 24, 2014

Ice rescue victim

The "victim" in a training drill waits for rescuers.

Photo by James Weliver/Bolton Massachusetts Fire Department

Falling through ice cover into the frigid water beneath can quickly lead to hypothermia and drowning. Learn how to stay safe on the ice before you go out. No matter how prepared you are, there is always the possibility of falling through the ice. If you see someone fall through ice cover, know how to rescue them. Before performing an ice rescue and putting yourself in danger, know how to escape ice.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: Less than 30 minutes until hypothermia and drowning

Here's How:

  1. STOP! Do not run toward the ice! If the ice was not strong enough to hold the victim, then it is not strong enough to hold a rescuer. Follow the same steps you would use to save a drowning victim: Preach, Reach, Throw, Row, Go.


  2. Call 911 Immediately! Since you will be on the ice, make sure you know how to call 911 from a cell phone.


  3. PREACH to the victim. Encourage the victim to keep trying to stay afloat. Let him or her know you are trying to help.


  4. REACH out to the victim. Use anything you can to reach the victim without getting too close. Anything that extends your reach will work; skis or poles, for example.


  5. THROW something to the victim and pull him or her out. A throw rope (buy now) is made for this purpose, but you can also use jumper cables or garden hoses. If possible, have the victim tie the rope around him or her before hypothermia makes it difficult to grasp the rope.


  6. ROW out to the victim. In the case of ice rescue, push a small boat out to the victim. Climb into the boat and bring the victim over the side into the boat. If the ice breaks again, you'll be floating on the cold water underneath, instead of swimming in it.


  7. GO. This is the last possible option, only to be used if nothing else works. If you must approach the hole in the ice, lay down and roll or slide up to the edge. Your body weight will be spread over a larger surface area, making the ice less likely to break more.


  8. Once the victim is out of the ice. Immediately begin treatment for hypothermia.


  1. Being prepared is the key to safety on the ice. Make sure you have the tools to stay safe on the ice.

What You Need:

  • Mobile phone
  • Rescue throw rope
  • Small boat

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