Play It Safe on the Ice

breakice2.3Attention ice anglers, skaters, and other winter adventurers: check ice carefully before venturing out on ice-covered waters.

In general, a clear layer of ice 4 inches thick is safe for foot traffic, but there are no guarantees. The following tips and resources will help you stay safe and enjoy the coming winter months.

Always consider ice to be potentially dangerous. Assess ice safety by using an ice chisel to chop a hole in the ice to determine its thickness and condition. Continue to test the ice as you go further out onto the pond or lake, since ice thickness is seldom uniform. The thickness of ice on ponds and lakes depends on water currents and/or springs, depth, and the presence of natural objects such as tree stumps or rocks. Daily changes in temperature cause the ice to expand and contract, which affects its strength. Don’t venture on to ice-bound rivers or streams because the currents make ice thickness unpredictable.

What if you fall through the ice? As with any emergency, don’t panic! Briefly call for help. It doesn’t take long for the cold water to start slowing your physical and mental functions, so you must act quickly. Air will remain trapped in your clothes for a short time, aiding in buoyancy. Kick your legs while grasping for firm ice. Try to pull your body up using ice pins or picks that should be hanging around your neck. Once your torso is on firm ice, roll towards thicker ice – the direction from which you previously walked. Rolling will distribute your weight better than walking. After you reach safe ice, you need to warm up quickly to prevent hypothermia. Go to the nearest fishing shanty, warm car, or house. Don’t drive home in wet clothes.

If a companion falls through the ice remember the phrase “Reach-Throw-Go.” If you are unable to reach your friend, throw a rope, jumper cables, tree branch, or other object. If this does not work, go for help; do not risk becoming a victim yourself.

Pet owners should keep pets on a leash. If a pet falls through the ice, do not attempt to rescue the pet; go for help. Well-meaning pet owners can easily fall through the ice when trying to save their pets.

Additional ice safety information is available on the MassWildlife Website and from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency  

Ice Thickness and Strength
Ice Thickness (inches) Permissible Load (on new* clear**, blue ice on lakes or ponds)
2″ or less STAY OFF!
4″ Ice fishing or other activities on foot
5″ Snowmobile or ATV
8″-12″ Car or small pickup truck
12″ – 15″ Medium truck
*New ice is stronger than older ice.
**White ice or “snow ice” is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Double the above thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice.