Eight Safety Tips for Playing On Frozen Lakes

8-safety-tips-for-skating-on-open-waterWhile skat­ing around on frozen bod­ies of water on a cold winter’s day is fun, it can also be risky.

Here’s what you need to know to ensure a safe day out there.

First and Fore­most, Mea­sure the Ice
There’s no way around it. While there are many visu­al cues that can help you deter­mine whether or not it’s safe to step out onto on the ice, the safest way to find out is to mea­sure the stuff.

There are a few tools you can use to mea­sure the ice. An ice chis­el can be stabbed into the ice until it pen­e­trates all the way through. Then, a mea­sure­ment of the rod can be tak­en to deter­mine the thick­ness of the ice. You can also use an ice auger to drill a hole through the ice, then mea­sure the depth with a mea­sur­ing tape—gas, elec­tric, and hand augers are all options here. A cord­less drill with a wood auger bit can also drill a hole through the ice.

What is a Safe Thickness?
Any­thing less than 3 inch­es should be avoid­ed at all costs. 4 inch­es can sup­port activ­i­ties like ice fish­ing, walk­ing, and cross-coun­try ski­ing. 5 inch­es can sup­port a snow­mo­bile or an ATV, while 8 to 12 inch­es of ice is enough to sup­port a small car. And while these guide­lines are gener­ic, ice con­di­tions vary and the above is for new­ly formed ice. Make sure to read more on thick­ness before going out there.

Mea­sur­ing in one place is not enough. Take the thick­ness mea­sure­ment in sev­er­al dif­fer­ent areas to ensure that the entire area is safe. Ice thick­ness can vary, even over a fair­ly small area—especially over mov­ing water.

Assess the Area Visually
A visu­al assess­ment can help sup­ple­ment your mea­sure­ment, and can also help if you’re rely­ing on some­one else’s measurements.

Watch for dan­ger­ous signs like cracks, seams, pres­sure ridges, dark areas (where the ice is thin­ner) and slushy areas—even slight slush sig­nals that the icing isn’t freez­ing at the bot­tom any­more, which means it’s get­ting pro­gres­sive­ly weaker.

The Col­or Wheel
Check out the col­or of the ice. Clear, blue or green ice might be thick enough to skate on. White ice typ­i­cal­ly has air or snow trapped inside, weak­en­ing it. Dark ice might be an indi­ca­tion that the ice is quite thin—probably too thin for skating.

The Fresh­er, the Better
New ice is typ­i­cal­ly stronger than old­er ice. As time pass­es, the bond between ice crys­tals decays even in very cold temperatures.

When spring hits, find a man-made rink. Once the spring thaw begins, ice weak­ens con­sid­er­ably. It can be tempt­ing to head out for one last skate in the event of a late-sea­son frost, but it’s safest to just say no. Even if ice fits the mea­sure­ment cri­te­ria, it can still be very dangerous.


Know Prop­er Res­cue Techniques
Any­one doing any­thing on ice out­doors should have knowl­edge of ice res­cue tech­nique. Even kids should be famil­iar with the pro­to­col, so be sure to edu­cate them ahead of time. If some­one in your par­ty falls through the ice, the first thing to do is call 911. Any­one still on the ice should slow­ly lie down, dis­trib­ut­ing their weight over a larg­er area.

Reach the per­son in the water using a long reach­ing assist—a large stick, a rope or a lad­der are all good options (read: have these things ready before you start). The per­son in the water should be instruct­ed to kick and slow­ly ease their way out of the water. Once they make it to the sur­face, they should crawl or roll away from the bro­ken ice area.

Any­one on the ice, includ­ing the vic­tim and res­cuer, should avoid stand­ing up until they are far away from the bro­ken ice. As soon as you can, get the vic­tim into dry cloth­ing and treat them for hypothermia.

Watch Your Dog!
If you’re out slid­ing around on a frozen lake, your dog is going to fol­low. Keep an eye on your canine to ensure that it remains in safe areas. If you can’t rely on your dog to stick close and come when called, you’re best option is to keep it on a leash.

If your dog does fall in, phone 911. Res­cue pro­fes­sion­als have the equip­ment need­ed to keep every­one safe—if you try to res­cue the dog your­self, chances are you’ll fall under, too.

Use the Starlight
Skat­ing around on a lake at night can be a great decision—just be sure that the area you choose is prop­er­ly lit. It’s hard­er to notice holes or weak areas at night. If the skat­ing area is not well-lit, you’re best off wait­ing until daylight.