Camping & Survival

30 Days of Preparing for Severe Winter Weather Day 29: Is it Safe to Walk on Ice?

There are very few chances us regular folks get to walk on water, so when ponds, lakes or rivers freeze over many take the opportunity to participate in fun activities such as ice skating, a friendly game of ice hockey, snowshoeing or ice fishing. But how do you know the ice is safe to walk over? There are a few general things to keep in mind when judging if frozen water is safe to walk over:

  • How thick is the ice
  • How long has it been cold
  • What is the type, size and depth of the body of water

Please remember, however, that ice is never 100 percent safe to walk on, so tread slowly. Take every precaution you can and follow these five rules for judging ice safety:

  1. Before even attempting to walk or skate on the ice, inspect it from the shoreline. Are there holes, cracks or can you see water moving underneath? All three are good indications that the ice isn’t thick enough to hold your weight. Is the ice near the bank slushy? If so, the ice probably isn’t stable enough. Notice the color of the ice. If the ice is clear, then you may proceed to your next check. Ice that is cloudy or dark is not as solid as clear ice.
  2. Is there snow build up on the body of water? Snow acts like an insulator and warms up the ice. A snow-covered pond is not as safe as one without snow.
  3. Using an ice chisel, drill or ice auger, puncture a hole in the ice until you hit water. Measure the amount of space between the ice and water with a tape measure or ruler. Four inches of ice is generally safe to walk on. ATVs and snowmobiles need at least five inches of ice for it to be safe.
  4. Drill more than one hole as you move over the ice. Just because the shallower part near the shore is four inches or more thick, does not mean the ice over the entire body of water is strong enough to hold you.
  5. Know what type of body of water you are on. Creeks, streams and other bodies of water with currents are more dangerous. Moving water under even 10 inches of ice can cause the ice to break. Larger bodies of water take longer to freeze. Take note of how many days it has been cold enough to keep the water frozen. The shallower the body of water, the safer it tends to be.

If you have any doubts about the thickness or stability of the ice, do not attempt to cross it! There is something to be said about skating on a natural frozen pond or river. There are always risks involved if you choose to get on the ice. Take an emergency kit with you in case someone falls in. Before heading out read, “How to Survive Falling Through the Ice,” and know how to prevent and treat hypothermia.

What to take with you:

To help prevent falling through:

  • Do not go out alone
  • Avoid walking single file over the ice
  • Keep your distance between people

If someone does fall in, attempting to rescue them can be very dangerous. Call 9-1-1 for help right away. Ice is slippery and attempting to grab hold once you have fallen in can be extremely difficult. Have each member of your party carry an ice pick. An ice pick digs into the ice so you can pull yourself out of the freezing water.

Do you have a local river, pond or stream you like to skate or ice fish on? How do you test to see if the ice is thick enough? Share your tips in the comment section.


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