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Game and Fish Provides Ice Safety and Rescue Tips


Game and Fish Provides Ice Safety and Rescue Tips


Outdoor recreationists venturing out on frozen lakes and rivers are advised to exercise caution, urges Nancy Boldt, boat and water safety coordinator for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

“As the weather changes and the lakes begin to freeze, people need to be aware of the potential dangers of ice,” Boldt said. “We want to make sure a person knows what to look for, and what to do in case an emergency does arise.”

Look for clear blue ice, Boldt advises, which is strongest because it is created by a sustained freeze. Unsafe ice is black, gray, or honeycombed because of repeated freezing and thawing. Discolored or dark spots suggest open water, thin ice, or possibly a spring, all of which are dangerous.

Snow insulates ice, inhibiting solid ice formation, and makes it difficult to check thickness. Structures such as fish houses, bridges, and fishing piers absorb heat from the sun and increase melting. Vegetation absorbs heat from the sun and rotting vegetation creates its own heat. Fish, muskrats, and other animals swimming under ice can weaken it, especially in shallow lakes and rivers. Moving water weakens ice about 15 percent and wind creates a pumping action that forces water through breaks in the ice, enlarging any opening in a short time.

When crossing ice on foot, slide your feet instead of stepping, Boldt suggests. This helps distribute your weight. Carry an ice chisel to check thicknesses. Large nails or a screwdriver worn on a long cord around the neck can be used to pull yourself back on the ice, should you break through. Once back on the ice, roll away from the hole instead of standing up immediately.

Boldt recommends the following minimums as safe for clear-blue lake ice formed under ideal conditions. However, early in the winter she advises doubling these figures to be safe:

Two inches or less---STAY OFF.
Four inches will support a group of people walking single file.
Five and one-half to six inches are necessary for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle.
Eight to 12 inches will support an automobile.
12-15 inches will support a pickup/truck.
When rescuing a person who has fallen through the ice, remember this simple rule: REACH, THROW, GO.

First, REACH the victim with a long pole, board, rope, blanket, or snowmobile suit.
Second, THROW the victim a life jacket, empty water jug, or other buoyant object.
Third, GO to the victim as the last resort. Should this be necessary, a human chain, in which rescuers lie on the ice with each person grasping the feet of the person in front, is an effective technique.
Treat a hypothermia victim by removing wet clothing and replacing it with dry clothing. An effective treatment is to place the victim in a sleeping bag, if available, with another person. Immediately transport the victim to a hospital.

“Even when the temperature is 40-below zero, ice is unsafe,” Boldt said. While there may be up to a foot of ice in one spot, she said, it could be very thin within just a few inches. “Avoid pressure ridges and areas where there is a current,” she added, “and warn your children about the dangers of thin ice.”

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