Here are a few ice safety tips that winter sports enthusiasts should keep in mind before venturing out on a frozen lake.
4" of new clear ice is the minimum thickness for travel on foot.
5" is minimum for snowmobiles and ATVs.
8"- 12" for cars or small trucks. Remember these are merely guidelines and that many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.
Check for known thin ice areas with a local resort or bait shop. Test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel or even a cordless 1/4 inch drill with a 6 inch or longer bit.
Don't "overdrive" your snowmobile's headlight. At even 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was traveling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated the hole in the ice.
Wear a life vest under your winter gear or one of the new flotation snowmobile suits. And it's a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be purchased from most well stocked sporting goods stores.
It's amazing how difficult it can be to pull yourself back onto the surface of unbroken but wet and slippery ice with a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 lbs of water. The ice picks really help pulling yourself back onto solid ice.
What should you do if a companion falls through thin ice?
1) Keep calm and think out a solution.
2) Don't run up to the hole. You'll probably break through and then there will be two victims.
3) Use some item on shore to throw or extend to the victim to pull them out of the water such as jumper cables or skis, or push a boat ahead of you.
4) If you can't rescue the victim immediately, call 911. It's amazing how many people carry cell phones.
5) Get medical assistance for the victim. People subjected to cold water but seem fine after being rescued can suffer a potentially fatal condition called "after drop. " That may occur when cold blood that is pooled in the body's extremities starts to circulate again as the victim starts to rewarm.
What if YOU fall in?
Try not to panic. Instead, remain calm and turn toward the direction you came from. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface of the ice. Here's where the ice picks (above) come in handy. Work forward on the ice by kicking your feet. If the ice breaks, maintain your position and slide forward again. Once you are lying on the ice, don't stand. Instead, roll away from the hole. That spreads out your weight until you are on solid ice. This sounds much easier than it is to do. The best advice is don't put yourself into needless danger by venturing out too soon or too late in the season. No angler, no matter how big of a fishing enthusiast, would want to die for a fish.