While 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.