I Fell through the Ice

Yes the title is a bit click-baity...but I have gone through up to my knees playing around ponds and streams as a kid. On winter camping trips we’ve traversed frozen lakes and on a few occasions have heard that heart-stopping cracking sound. This time of year many outdoor enthusiasts are having great experiences out on lake ice; from ice fishing to pond hockey. So how does one know if the ice is safe? Technically it's never safe, there's always some risk. The key is to minimize that risk. Ice activities are a lot of fun and some knowledge keeps you on the right side of it..

For starters, thinner than 2 inches is very unsafe. Some would argue that surface tension should allow one to traverse it, but in terms of limiting risk, why would one?

3 inches (7.6ish cm) is okay for one person on foot, no gear (4 inches for a group walking spaced out single file). Still too thin for me.

7.5 inches (19cm) for a passenger car...and me.

8 inches for light truck

10 inches for medium

A foot for a heavy truck, and so on.

Oh, and the above measurements are if it's “good” ice. For lakes and ponds a clear solid blue/black is ideal. If the ice is slush ice, it's half as strong as the blue stuff. On a river the above thicknesses should be about 20-25% greater- to factor in currents and whatnot. Be on the lookout for gray ice...its weak.

Ice is elastic, as you put weight on it it flexes. If you enter “car through the ice”in to your favorite search engine, you’ll find tonnes of recent stories of vehicles that went through seemingly thick enough ice, but, as the stories show, ice has a breaking point. If you do take a vehicle on the ice keep in mind that most insurance companies won't cover damages or recovery if it goes through (some companies will add it in a rider policy). If your vehicle does go through, you’re also looking at hefty fines from environmental agencies- most increase for each day it's submerged.

So what should you do if you go through?

The Canadian Red Cross (see below for more info) suggests these tips:

  • Call for help.

  • Resist the immediate urge to climb back out where you fell in. The ice is weak in this area.

  • Use the air trapped in your clothing to get into a floating position on your stomach.

  • Reach forward onto the broken ice without pushing down. Kick your legs to push your torso on the ice.

  • When you are back on the ice, crawl on your stomach or roll away from the open area with your arms and legs spread out as far as possible to evenly distribute your body weight. Do not stand up! Look for shore and make sure you are going in the right direction.

Many early season ice fishers and snowmobilers wear snowsuits that aid in a breakthrough, and many carry picks or other tools that aid in self-rescue.The key is to minimize risk. Check online resources for up to date ice updates. Drill test holes, and if you’re not sure don’t go out. Being aware and prepared ensures a great time on the ice, not through it.

Here’s a few links to more ice fun: