Winter brings with it a bunch of enjoyable activities, like sledding, skating, ice fishing, and snowmobiling. However, amidst the winter wonderland lies a hidden danger - icy bodies of water that can turn a day of fun into a tragic incident. Recent events in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, where two young brothers (ages 6 and 8) lost their lives after falling into an icy retention pond, serve as a somber reminder of the importance of understanding the hazards posed by frozen bodies of water. Often times this season of year, frozen and semi-frozen bodies of water are hidden by large amounts of snow, like we just received across the Midwest, making it even more challenging to stay safe.

Young lady bathing in the ice hole
Credit: mihtiander

Before embarking on winter water adventures, it's crucial to be well-informed and prepared. Here are essential safety tips and tricks to ensure a secure experience on icy lakes and ponds.

Credit: nathan4847
Credit: nathan4847

With Ice Covered Water, Knowledge is Key

Before venturing onto the ice, gather information about local conditions. Consult the local bait shop, lakeside resort, or residents to understand the current ice conditions. Recognize that making consistent ice is a challenge for Mother Nature, and various factors can affect its thickness and strength. The Minnesota DNR has some great guidelines when it comes to ice safety.

  • New Ice is Stronger: Keep in mind that new ice is stronger than old ice.
  • Underwater Currents: Be aware that underwater currents make it difficult for ice to form.
  • Snowfall Impact: Understand that a fresh snowfall slows down the creation of ice and adds weight.
  • Ice Shifts: If you hear booming or cracking sounds, it doesn't necessarily mean the ice is unsafe. Ice can shift due to temperature changes.
Credit: nathan4847
Credit: nathan4847

What are the Ice Thickness Guidelines?

Ice fishing shacks out on the frozen harbour.
Credit: onepony

Knowing the appropriate ice thickness is vital for safety. Follow these guidelines to gauge ice thickness before engaging in various activities:

  • 2" or Less: STAY OFF the ice.
  • 4": Suitable for ice fishing or other activities on foot.
  • 5": Safe for snowmobiling or ATV use.
  • 8" - 12": Suitable for a car or a small pickup.
  • 12" - 15": Can support a medium truck.
Credit: Minnesota DNR
Credit: Minnesota DNR

How can you Survive if You Fall Through Thin Ice?

Thin ice freezing around some trees.
Credit: txking

In case of an emergency where someone falls through thin ice, it's essential to follow these survival tips to the best of your ability:

  • Remain Calm: Avoid panicking. Flailing arms waste valuable body heat and energy.
  • Control Breathing: Focus on controlling your breathing to avoid hyperventilating.
  • Float Horizontally: Try to float horizontally, making it easier to slide onto the ice.
  • Call for Help: If possible, call for help, but ensure that others stay a safe distance away.
  • Don't Stand Up: After getting out of the water, resist the urge to stand up immediately.
  • Warm Up Slowly: Focus on warming up gradually with shelter, dry clothes, and warm beverages.
Family ice fishing
Credit: GROGL

All the above being said, it is also important for parents to be aware of household hazards like pools and ponds that cause the same hazards as a frozen lake or river. Winter activities on icy water can be exhilarating, but without proper knowledge perilous. Understanding ice safety, being informed about local conditions, and following these safety guidelines can significantly reduce the risk of accidents/survival. As we enjoy the beauty of winter, let's prioritize safety and ensure that every outing on frozen water is memorable for the right reasons.

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