Ice Safety

A homemade pair of necklace hand spikes which can give you a grip on the ice to help pull yourself out. All photos by Kate Sulentic.

So far it has been a mild winter, keeping our midseason pond ice marginal for ice fishing and other topside activities. Some thoughts regarding ice safety on ponds:

  • The usual rule is to wait for at least four inches of clear hard ice to form, and needing more if it is bubbly or soft.
  • Keep your distance from each other, not because of Covid, but to spread your weight over larger area.
  • Stay away from overflow pipes, often located near the center of a dam. Water flowing toward them can thin the ice there on the underside.

    Note the ice has been eroded where the dark area is visible on edge of pond.
  • Water tables are high this winter. Flow of little springs and seeps up into shallow bays can erode the ice from below in those locations.
  • Stay away from any logs imbedded in the ice. Their dark color makes them solar collectors on sunny days which can thin the ice around them.
  • Have some sort of rescue plan in mind, just in case. This might include a cell phone to call 911, a necklace pair of hand spikes, or a prepared rope for example. Within the last couple of years, ice fishing pants have become available in bib-style, which are air-filled and buoyant enough to float you. Or simply wear a personal flotation device or PFD.
  • Go with another person or a group.
  • Forego happy hour until you are safe back home.
  • Non-professional rescue is fraught with difficulty. The victim may go into shock so quickly that they cannot help themselves. Or the would-be rescuer might also break through. A large person wearing soggy clothing may prove impossible to pull out, even with a lasso below their arms, in part because people on the other end of the rope cannot get traction on the ice. A long rope that can reach shore might help.
  • There is no substitute for avoiding the crisis of falling through the ice.
A clip-on six ounce fishing sinker can provide enough weight to throw a light rope about 30 feet. A large lasso type loop can be made as needed by pulling some rope through a smaller loop in the end of the rope. Rope can be kept from tangling by coiling it carefully inside a five gallon bucket with a little traffic cone in the bottom.

2 thoughts on “Ice Safety”

  1. Hi Lon, what an important article for winter explorers! One thought to add – here in Western New York we have many waterways for which the high water level fluctuates dramatically, by several inches or more over the course of a couple of days. In our case it is often the influence of the Great Lakes levels on tributary waterways, but dams and weather conditions up the watershed can also cause this. When water levels rise suddenly, a river with 6-12 inches of safe ice can develop a rim of very thin ice along shore, sometimes overnight. Every couple of years we lose someone that falls through this thin ice nearshore, then slips or is carried by the current under the heavy ice sheet where they can’t possibly break through. We always advise people to assume that ice is dangerous and test the ice near shore before stepping out, even if you just tested it the prior day. Thanks for your great blog, it is an inspiration in the middle of a long winter.

  2. All good, Lon. Friday I was helping a friend fell a tree onto the ice so we could easily retrieve it.

    He went through at the edge of the small pond/retention basin only enough to wet his sole.

    But why, when the ice was thick and solid? Bank is steep: perhaps there’s a seep there? Snow cover is thick, perhaps enough to prevent solid freezing there, but why at the edge? I dunno.


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