Staying Safe on the Winter Ice

The ice can be very alluring and also very dangerous; every year, many people fall through and have to be pulled back to safety. Some of them make it through the ordeal and some of them do not. The biggest danger is the low temperature of the water. A person may be an excellent swimmer. They may even be a lifeguard or a sailor. Still, no matter how easy it sounds to tread water while waiting for rescue, it is indescribably harder when one has gone through the ice. Hypothermia can set in after just a half an hour, shutting the body down and making it impossible to stay afloat no matter how strong or well-conditioned one is. There are a few things that everyone should know to stay safe on the ice this winter, things that could potentially save lives.

The first thing to remember is that being alone is the most dangerous position one can put oneself in. The ice should never be traversed alone, even for the short distance to an ice shanty or a nearby island. With so little time until hypothermia, the rescue efforts need to start immediately should a person fall through. If they are alone, this will eat up valuable time and may mean that no one knows what has happened until it is too late. The ice traveler should always find a partner before setting out, even over well-known and charted ice, and they should stay close to that person at all times.

The second thing one can do, and something that is very seldom done, is to wear a personal flotation device, or a life jacket. It may seem strange to wear one while walking along on the ice, since one is not planning on being in the water, but a life jacket is even more valuable in the winter than it is in the summer. In the summer, one has much longer to stay afloat and try to swim. With a life jacket on the ice, one will have a much better chance of making it until rescue, as hypothermia will not cause them to sink with the assistance of a life jacket. The one exception to this rule is if a person is in a car being driven over the ice. This happens every year when people bring ice fishing shanties out onto the lake, and in the car they should keep the life jacket off. This is a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources advisory, as the bulky life jacket could make it all but impossible to escape from a sinking car.

Another thing to have along on any trip across the ice is an ice pick. Again, it may feel strange to carry since one is not climbing a mountain, but it will be well worth it. When climbing out of a hole in the ice, one of the main problems people face is that the edge of the ice keeps breaking away and they have no way to reach further out for a grip. An ice pick alleviates this problem, as it extends a person’s reach until they can get a grip on solid ice and drag themselves out. If a pick is not available, a homemade contraption that works quite well is a rope with wooden grips tied to each end. In the end of the grips, nails can be fashioned so that they stick out an inch or so. With one grip in each hand, a person can crawl out of a hole because they do not have to grab the very edge of the break.

Ice safety is extremely important and very easy to practice; many people neglect it because they feel like they know the ice or they know the conditions. Others neglect it because they don’t want to carry ice picks and life jackets when they feel there is no real need. However, if just a little more safety is practiced in the winter, many catastrophes can be averted. Much of the gear required is not expensive, and can be purchased at a neighborhood hardware store if nowhere else is available. By doing that, a person ensures that they can walk on the ice with confidence.