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Be Smart On the Ice

Know what to do ahead of time in case of an ice emergency.

Every year, there's a story on the news about someone falling through the ice on a farm pond or lake. While ice fishing and skating are fun winter activities, it's crucial to make safety a priority.

Even if being on the ice isn't part of your family's routine, everyone who lives where temperatures dip below freezing needs to know about ice safety. First, nobody should be on the ice alone, and children should know they are not allowed to set foot on the ice without an adult present.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources recommends everyone who is on the ice wear a life jacket and says those who are ice fishing should also wear ice picks. It also recommends staying off the ice after dark.

When is Ice Safe?

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) advises everyone to remember ice is never 100% safe. Ice thickness can vary across a pond or lake due to snow cover, temperature, currents, springs, and other factors. 

The Minnesota DNR recommends checking for ice thickness at least every 150 feet. These are the minimum ice depths required for new, clear ice. Older or white "snow" ice isn’t as strong as new, clear ice, so in those cases, these numbers should be doubled.

  • Under 4": Stay off
  • 4": Minimum for on-foot activities like ice fishing
  • 5"-7": Minimum for a snowmobile or ATV
  • 8"-12": Minimum for a car or small pickup
  • 12"-15": Minimum for a medium truck

Have a Plan in Place

The Minnesota DNR recommends everyone have a survival plan in place before an accident occurs. Steps include the following.

  1. Don't remove winter clothing. Rather than dragging you down, they actually trap air to provide warmth and flotation, especially snowmbile suits.
  2. Try to get out toward the direction from which you came. You know the ice is strong enough to support you there.
  3. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken ice. Ice picks or sharpened screwdrivers can come in handy here.
  4. Kick your feet and dig ice picks in to work your way back onto solid ice. 
  5. Lie flat on the surface and roll away from the hole rather than walking or crawling to keep your weight more evenly distributed.
  6. Get to a warm, dry area immediately and seek medical attention.

Just because you’re out of the water doesn't mean you’re out of danger. If moderate to severe hypothermia has set in, cold blood trapped in extremeties can come rushing back to the heart, which can cause ventricular fibrillation, heart attack, and even death.

Saving Someone Else

Many times, one person in icy water turns into two people in icy water. If someone else falls through the ice, it's important to keep calm and resist the urge to run to the edge of the hole. Make sure children understand this, and remind them regularly to stay back if another person or animial has fallen through.

If you do see someone who has fallen through the ice, the Minnesota DNR advises calling 911 for help then following the Preach, Reach, Throw, Row, Go method:

  • Preach: Shout to the victim, encourage them to fight to survive, and tell them help is on the way.
  • Reach: If you can safely reach the victim from shore, extend a rope, ladder, or even jumper cables to them. If they start to pull you in, let go and try again with an other object.
  • Throw: Toss one end of a rope or something else that will float to the victim. Have them tie the rope around themselves before they are too weak to grasp it tightly.
  • Row: If there's a light boat to push across the ice ahead of you, push it to the edge of the hole, get in, and pull the victim into the boat. Attach a long piece of rope so others can pull the boat to safety.
  • Go: Unless you are a professional, you shouldn't go out onto the ice to perform a rescue unless all of these other techniques have been ruled out.

If the situation is too dangerous for a rescue, again call 911 and keep reassuring the victim help is on the way. "Heroics by well-meaning but untrained rescuers sometimes result in two deaths," the Minnesota DNR says.

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