Staying safe on the ice this winter

Ice fishing is supposed to be a good time during the winter months, while we wait for the first signs of thaw to arrive. However, every year ice fishermen fall victim to ice and the dangers of falling through, not knowing what measures to take if the worst-case scenario happens.

There are precautions an outdoorsman can take to prevent falling through weak ice.  Unfortunately, no matter how careful we are, there is always the risk of getting wet in sub-freezing waters that can quickly take one’s life if he or she does not know what to do in case of an emergency. Here are a few tips to help prevent accidents.

One of the biggest reasons people go through the ice is that they get on ice that is not thick enough to support them and their equipment. Four inches of clear ice is the bare minimum for a person to safely walk on. An ATV or snowmobile will take at least 5 inches of ice, and a vehicle will require 8 inches (12 is better). A lot of things can factor into whether ice is safe or not, so these are only guidelines. Early and late in the season are often the most dangerous times to be on the ice.

Each body of water has its known danger areas. If you are going to be on water that you are not familiar with, check with locals who know the water for problem ice. They can give you a lot of valuable information.

Try not to drive on ice if possible. If you must drive, keep the windows rolled down and your seat belt off. Remember that a vehicle can be replaced, so do not hesitate to leave it in a hurry if things go awry.

Safety should be first and foremost with fishermen. Do not venture onto the ice unless it is at least 4 to 6 inches thick. This is the minimum thickness that will safely support a person and their equipment. Keep in mind that snow weakens the stability of the ice. Do not test just one area of ice and assume that it will be the same depth in all areas of the lake, reservoir or pond, because it might not be.

Ice fishing accidents can quickly become deadly. Do not ice fish alone. Always have someone with you and let people back at the house know where you will be and when you expect to return. That way, if you do not return on time, they know exactly where to look for you.

Ice fishermen must also be aware of frostbite and hypothermia. You must be alert as to the amount of time you are on the ice and the weather conditions while you are fishing. Do not get overwhelmed with all the excitement and stay out too long. Below are five more ice fishing safety recommendations:

  • Wear a warm hat that covers your ears to prevent heat loss from your head.
  • Go with a partner and stay separated when going to and from fishing spots in case one of you falls through the ice.
  • Carry a rope to throw to someone who falls through the ice. Go to that person only as a last resort.
  • Test the ice ahead of you with an ice spud bar or an auger.
  • Do not leave children unsupervised.

Ice fishing is meant to be an enjoyable time. Always practice safety and use common sense. If something doesn’t look safe, stay away. There will be plenty of opportunities to step out on the ice.