News: Walking on thin ice: Know before you go
Story by Nathan Herring
TULSA, Okla. - During the winter months in Kansas, ice fishing is a popular activity, but it’s important to remember there is no such thing as safe ice.
Conditions such as water depth, temperature, currents and distribution of weight, among other factors, can render seemingly safe ice suddenly dangerous. Each year in North America there are an average of five deaths and countless close calls due to people falling through ice.
However, with the right knowledge and safety precautions, the risk can be significantly reduced.
Tips to identify potentially unsafe ice
- Look for any cracks, breaks, holes, weak spots or abnormal surfaces such as pressure ridges caused by currents - If you see any of these, do not go onto the ice.
- Look at the color of the ice - Color can indicate the strength of the ice, however, you cannot rely on your eyesight alone, and it is just an initial look to help you decide if you should proceed to the next step of measuring the thickness.
The following guidelines for color can help identify the strength.
Light to dark black- Indicates melting ice and can occur even if temperatures are below 32 degrees. It’s not safe to walk on this ice.
White to opaque- This color indicates water-saturated snow that has frozen on top of ice forming another thin ice layer. Most of the times, this ice is weakened and porous due to air pockets.
Blue to clear- This ice is high density and strong. It is the safest ice to be on if it is also thick enough.
Slushy or “rotten” ice- In this case, it is not so much the color but the texture that is the indicator. This ice is thawing and slushy. It can be deceptive because it may seem thick on top but it is rotting in the center and base. Completely avoid this type! It is unsafe to even take a footstep on it.
Take a measurement- Before taking any measurements, make sure the ice is new, clear and hard. You cannot rely on the measurements alone. Some ice may be very thick but rotten. To measure the ice, use an ice auger or cordless drill to make a hole into the ice until you are completely through it. Then, use a tape measure to hook onto the bottom edge of the ice.
These guidelines for thickness can help determine the safeness of the ice.
- Less than three inches- Keep off!
- Four inches- Suitable for a person to ice fish and walk on.
- Five inches- Suitable for multiple people.
- Eight to 12 inches- Suitable for a group of people.
Things to remember
- Motorized vehicles, including ATVs and snowmobiles, are prohibited on Corps lakes in Kansas
- New ice is stronger than old ice- Four inches of new clear ice may support a person while several feet of older slushy ice may not.
- Ice seldom freezes uniformly- It may be a foot thick in one location and only an inch or two thick just a few feet away. It’s important to frequently take measurements every few feet.
- Schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl can adversely affect the safety of ice-The movement of waterfowl and fish keeps the water moving preventing it from freezing.
- Extreme cold doesn’t mean safe ice- Ice expands as it freezes. This expanding ice pushes up pressure ridges in some areas and opens cracks in other areas. A cold snap with very cold temperatures can quickly weaken ice and cause large cracks within a few hours while a warm spell can take several days to weaken ice.
While out on the ice
- Carry a cell phone- Keep it in a plastic baggy or some other waterproof container. It should be stored in an easily accessible outside pocket, that way 911 can be called in an emergency if an accident occurs.
- Use the buddy system- Never go on ice alone. If someone falls in, the other person is there to help.
- Wear a life jacket- A life jacket should be worn anytime you are in or near water, even if it is frozen.
- Carry a pair of homemade ice picks- Even if they are just two screwdrivers tied together with strong cord, they can be used to pull yourself up if the ice breaks. Remember, to use wooden handles so they float and not sink.
- Carry a rope- Carrying a rope with a minimum length of 70 feet can be used to throw to another person if they fall through the ice.
- Avoid areas that have trees or other objects protruding from the ice- These objects absorb the sun’s heat and weaken the ice around it.
- Never drive on the ice.
- Don’t drink alcohol while on the ice- This can severely impair your judgment and make it difficult to stay afloat if problem arises.
- If you feel the ice failing- Lie down on the ice and roll onto safer ice. If rolling isn’t possible, crawl on all fours to safer ice.
What to do if the ice breaks and someone falls in the water
- Immediately call 911- Call for help as soon as possible. The sooner rescuers know that there is a problem, the quicker they can respond.
- Never go out on the ice- You could go from rescuer to victim very quickly.
- Use the reach and throw method.
- Reach- Try to reach the person from the shore using a long pole, rope, or tree limb. Never reach for someone by hand.
- Throw- If the rescuer is on safe ice or land, first lie on your back and brace your feet on the ice or land. Then, throw the rope to the victim and have them tie it under the armpits, not around the waist. As the victim is pulled, they should claw their way onto the ice and kick their feet with all their strength. Once out of the water, they should roll away from the ice. Remember, it may take the strength of several people to pull someone from the ice because waterlogged clothing substantially increases the weight of the person.
Ice fishing can be a fun and enjoyable activity, but it can also be a dangerous one. Knowing what to look for and what to do in if something happens is important to make sure that everyone comes home safely.