Ice Fishing: What Is Safe Ice?
Ice fishing is a great way to get the whole family outside during the winter, but it is not without some risks. Four to five ice fishing deaths occur each year in North America, but most of them are easily prevented. Knowledge about ice safety and what to do if you encounter unsafe ice conditions can keep your family safe while ice fishing. Follow these safety precautions this winter as you ice fish to make it a positive experience for everyone.
Assess Ice Safety
Many regions provide regular ice safety alerts to let you know when it is safe to venture onto lakes and streams. While it is a valuable service, reports cannot speak to the conditions of all bodies of water. Each lake or stream is different and it is important that you recognize the signs that the ice is safe. Looks for these indicators that the ice is safe for fishing.
Ice depth refers to the depth of clear or new ice.
4 Inches. Four inches of ice will support the weight of one person on foot. If you are walking with a buddy, keep six feet between you.
5 Inches. Five inches of ice will support ATVs and snowmobiles.
8 to 12 Inches. Eight to 12 inches will support the weight of automobiles and lightweight pickup trucks.
12 to 15 Inches. 12 to 15 inches of ice will support the weight of a truck.
Types of Ice
Not all ice is created equal. Here's what you need to know about different types of ice and how that affects ice safety.
New Ice. This may be referred to as clear or blue ice. It is ice that has recently frozen. New ice is solid ice without snow or slush. New ice (as long as it meets the depth requirements) is the safest ice.
White Ice. White ice is a mixture of snow and ice. It may have frozen, melted and frozen again. White or snow ice is only half as strong as new ice. If you are fishing on white ice, double the recommended ice depth for safety.
Signs of Weak Ice
Knowing how to spot weak areas of ice is important to everyone's safety. Make sure all members of your fishing party recognize these signs that the ice may be weak or thin.
Slushy Ice. Slushy ice typically indicates the ice is melting and may be a sign the ice has weakened.
Open Areas Near Streams or Currents. The ice near the current in rivers, streams or near inlets in a lake may be considerably thinner than the ice in the center.
This typically indicates the ice is thin.
When Accidents Occur
If you or one of your fishing buddies does fall through the ice, there are some important things you should know.
- Never rush towards a person who has fallen through the ice. You will likely break through too creating a bigger disaster. Use a pole, line or another object to pull the person to the edge of the ice.
- Use an ice pick or another sharp object to pull yourself back on the ice if you fall through. Stay on your belly until your full body is on the ice again and then roll away from the opening.
- Get medical assistance for anyone who has fallen through the ice, even if they claim they are fine. A condition called "after drop" can occur when their body begins the warm, and the cold blood from their extremities begins to circulate in their body. This condition can be fatal.
Ready to hit the ice for a day of fishing? Check out our blog for a list of the equipment you will need for ice fishing or stop by Norton Sporting Goods to pick up supplies and learn more about the proper use of your equipment.