Practice safety first, or you may be skating on thin ice

Illinois ice fishermen are watching weather reports and counting down the days until it gets bitter cold, impatiently waiting for the “first ice” and the chance to go ice fishing. The first anglers to see “fishable ice” will be in the northern lakes and ponds; safe ice usually appears much later in the year for middle and southern Illinois.

While northern Illinois may see several weeks of good ice, the middle of the state may only see three or four weeks, and southern Illinois may only see a few days, if any. Illinois’ daily up-and-down temperatures bring frustration for anglers waiting for safe, fishable “hard water.”

Fishermen are not the only ones waiting for safe ice, and it’s important to keep a watchful eye for people who may venture out on neighborhood retention ponds, lakes and other waterways. Too early on the ice, even in freezing temperatures, and they might find themselves in trouble.

Every winter, thousands of Illinois residents safely enjoy fishing, skating, hiking or just sliding around on frozen ponds and lakes. However, every year people drown after falling through ice. Don’t let this happen to you or yours.

When thinking about getting on the ice, always put safety first. Believe all ice is thin ice unless proven otherwise. Here are a few tips to remember when considering standing on or walking on a frozen body of water:

  • No ice without testing and confirmation is safe ice.
  • Do not go alone.
  • Test the thickness of the ice with an ice auger. At least four inches of ice is recommended for ice fishing, and five inches is recommended for snowmobiling.
  • If you don’t know the thickness of the ice, don’t go out on it.
  • Wear a life jacket or flotation coat.
  • Carry ice hooks and rope gear.
  • Before going on the ice, leave a note of your whereabouts with a friend or family member.
  • Never attempt to test the thickness of ice while alone.

Wearing a life jacket is especially important when on ice. If you fall through, it will keep your head above the water until help arrives.

Remember, a new coating of snow, while perhaps beautiful, can make for treacherous ice conditions. Snow can serve as insulation, causing water to freeze at a slower rate. When snow and rain freeze into ice, it is not as strong as solid, clear ice.

Another potentially dangerous situation can happen when you encounter a pet or other animal in distress on the ice. If this should occur, do not go after the animal. Instead, contact local emergency response personnel such as the fire department, who are equipped to make a rescue.

A few more tips:

  • Some bodies of water can appear to be frozen solid but have thin ice in unexpected areas.
  • Flowing water, such as rivers and streams, should be avoided when covered by a layer of ice.
  • Similarly, water surrounded by sand may freeze with inconsistencies in the thickness of the ice.
  • Underground springs, wind, waterfowl and other animals can also keep areas of ice thin.
  • Dress for the cold, and enjoy the winter weather, but always make safety a priority.

Until next time, whether you’re fishing or skating, enjoy safe adventures on ice.