This past week Colorado experienced some extremely cold temperatures for a sustained period of time, and much of the country endured grueling weather as well. The frigid temperatures in Colorado did not get above 10 degrees for several days, with the lows down to as much as 31 below. These icy temperatures froze the lakes and streams, and then blanketed them with a covering of snow. While it would seem that this would begin the season of ice fishing, I caution people to adhere to some basic safety rules when it comes to going out on the ice.
Always assume that unsafe ice conditions may exist and remember ice thickness will vary from place to place and day to day. Four inches of ice is generally considered safe for ice fishing and ice skating. However, all-terrain-vehicles and snow machines need at least five inches of ice thickness. Whenever there is any question about thickness or conditions the best advice is to stay off the ice.
Look for signs of unsafe conditions, including ice of different colors, water on top of the ice, cracks, pressure ridges, open water and bubbles in the ice. Also, beware of ice covered with snow. Sometimes the snow serves as insulation, keeping the ice from melting. Other times, the snow has the opposite effect, insulating the surface from freezing. Also be aware that water levels can fluctuate in reservoirs which can affect ice stability.
If you do choose to venture onto the ice, remember the following ice safety tips:
Never go onto the ice alone. Having someone with you means your partner can call or send for help if you fall in. I can’t say that I always adhere to this; I don’t have any friends here that want to go ice fishing.
Remember Reach-Throw-Go. If you are with someone who falls through the ice use this approach. If you can’t reach the person from shore, throw them a floatation device or rope. If you still can’t help the person quickly – go for help. Never attempt to walk out onto the ice to rescue your friend because you might also fall through the ice.
Life jacket. While some people say you should wear a life jacket, I tend to disagree with this. Sure, it may save your life, but if you are venturing out onto ice that you aren’t sure about, you shouldn’t be doing that in the first place. Wearing a life jacket over your heavy clothes is really not feasible.
Assemble a personal safety kit. Always wear a safety kit on your body when going out onto the ice. Safety kits should include an ice pick, rope and a whistle to call for help. For ice picks I cut a broom handle into 2 6” pieces, drive a nail into each end leaving about an inch out, cut off the nail head, put a hook eye into the other end, and then string a piece of para cord long enough to thread through the arms of my coat and have the ice picks dangling by my hands.
Always keep your pets on a leash. Never allow your dog to run out onto the ice and never walk your dog near a frozen lake or pond without a leash. If your dog falls through the ice, do not attempt a rescue. Go for help. If the ice couldn’t support the weight of your animal, it can’t support you.
Even with the best planning and preparation, accidents can happen. If you do fall through the ice, remember the following:
Don’t panic. Try to remain calm to conserve as much energy as possible. Try to get your arms onto the ice and kick as hard as you can with your feet to help lift you onto the ice, and then roll to safety. If you can’t get out of the cold water by yourself, take the following appropriate actions to extend your survival time while waiting to be rescued.
Do not swim. Swimming will cause your body to lose heat much faster than if you stay as still as possible.
Act slowly and deliberately to conserve heat. Expect a progressive decrease in your strength and ability to move. Make the harder maneuvers at the beginning, while you can.
Keep your upper body above water. Keep your head and upper body as far out of the water as reasonably possible to conserve heat.
Aside from ice fishing, there are other activities that may lead you to a situation where you have to cross ice. While no one can guarantee you that the ice is safe, taking a few precautions and having some basic knowledge is enough to get you out and enjoy the outdoors in the winter time.