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Location affects how safe ice is.

  • Ice on streams and rivers tends to be weak and dangerous because of the currents in these bodies of water.
  • Ice on a lake or pond is usually safer. However, various conditions can cause weak spots.

Different types of ice differ in their safety.

  • Newly formed clear ice tends to be strongest. The ice should be at least 3" thick for one person to cross safely, and 4" is preferable. For multiple people or snowmobiles to cross, the ice should be at least 6" thick.
  • White ice is mixed with snow and slush. This ice is weaker than clear ice.
  • Candle ice forms when strong ice starts to melt. This type of ice usually is found in the early spring. It may be unsafe, even if 2' thick.

Several items of equipment can help you stay safe on the ice.

  • Ice cleats. These can help you keep your footing.
  • Walking staff. Use a stick or staff to check the condition of the ice in front of you as you are crossing.
  • Ice safety picks. If you fall through the ice, ice picks can help you pull yourself out of the water. It is very difficult to pull yourself out without safety picks. Keep the picks handy whenever you are crossing ice.

If you do fall through the ice, try to climb out in the direction you came from. After climbing out, roll in the direction you came from.

If another person falls through the ice, lie down to spread your weight. Reach out to the victim with a walking stick, or throw the victim a rope. Do not get too close to the hole, or you could fall through also.

Trapper warming near a fire

After escaping from icy water, hypothermia will develop quickly. It is important to get warm as quickly as possible.

  • Go to a nearby shelter or vehicle to get warm.
  • If there is no shelter or vehicle nearby, build a fire immediately and rewarm slowly. Someone at or near unconsciousness should not be exposed to a large fire, which can lead to traumatic shock or death.
  • Call for help if you have a cell phone.