When it comes to winter activities on ice, there is no such thing as being too safe.
Whether ice skating, playing hockey, going ice fishing or snowmobiling, understanding the condition of the ice can be a matter of life or death.
“There is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice,” said Chris Bedore, dive rescue coordinator for Crystal Lake Fire Rescue. “Determining the strength of ice is extremely difficult, especially for an untrained individual.”
Temperatures need to be lower than 20 degrees for at least a week to make ice strong enough to be considered safe, Bedore said.
If ice is 2 inches or less, stay off. Four inches of ice is safe for ice fishing or other activities on foot. Five inches of ice is safe for snowmobiles or ATVs. Eight to 12 inches of ice can support a car or small pickup, 12-15 inches of ice will support a medium truck.
The Red Cross also says the color of ice may be an indication of its strength. Clear blue ice is strongest, according to the Red Cross. White opaque or snow ice is half as strong as blue ice. Opaque ice is formed by wet snow freezing on the ice. Grey ice is unsafe and indicates the presence of water.
If you get into trouble on ice and you’re by yourself, the Red Cross offers 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.
If you are with a group and someone falls through the ice, remember that the safest way to perform a rescue is from shore. The Red Cross offers these tips if you are in a group:
• Call for help. Consider whether you can quickly get help from trained professionals (police, fire fighters or ambulance) or bystanders.
• Check if you can reach the person using a long pole or branch from shore – if so, lie down and extend the pole to the person.
• If you go onto ice, wear a personal floatation device and carry a long pole or branch to test the ice in front of you. Bring something to reach or throw to the person.
• When near the break, lie down to distribute your weight and slowly crawl toward the hole.
• Remaining low, extend or throw your emergency rescue device (pole, rope, line or branch) to the person.
• Have the person kick while you pull them out.
• Move the person to a safe position on shore or where you are sure the ice is thick. Signal for help.
• 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.
There is much fun to be had with winter activities involving ice. Before you have that fun, take precautions to ensure your safety and the safety of others.