Sportsman's Corner

Time to talk about ice safety

Every year, at this time, this column spends some time discussing ice safety. Ice fishermen are getting active and others venture on frozen surfaces for a variety of reasons. Please remember that ice is always potentially dangerous. You can’t judge ice conditions by appearance or thickness alone; many other factors like water depth, size of waterbody, water chemistry, currents, snow cover, age of ice and local weather conditions impact ice strength.

There are a number of ice safety tips to remember. First, new ice is stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly formed ice may support one person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially thawed ice may not. Next, you need to understand that ice doesn’t freeze uniformly. Continue to check ice conditions frequently as you venture out onto the ice. Finally, ice formed over flowing water and currents is often more dangerous. Avoid traveling onto ice-bound rivers and streams, as the currents make ice thickness unpredictable. Many lakes and ponds may contain spring holes and other areas of currents that can create deceptively dangerous thin spots.

Before heading out onto the ice you should tell someone your plans, including where you are going and when you expect to return. Always come prepared. Carry a cell phone in case of emergency. Always carry ice picks and rope with you on the ice. In case of emergency, drive the nails into the ice and pull yourself to safety while kicking. It is a good idea to wear a life jacket. If you fall in, a life jacket will keep you at the surface and can provide insulation against the effects of cold water.

The guidelines below are for clear, blue ice on lakes and ponds. White ice or snow ice is only about half as strong as new clear ice and can be very treacherous. Use an ice chisel, auger, or cordless drill to make a hole in the ice and determine its thickness and condition. Bring a tape measure to check ice thickness at regular intervals.

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 

If you fall in, don’t panic. Call for help if there are people nearby. Don’t remove winter clothing. Air trapped in your clothes can provide warmth and help you float. Turn the direction you came from. Ice you previously walked on should be the safest. Place your hands and arms on an unbroken surface and kick your legs. If you have ice picks or a pair of nails, use them to pull yourself up onto the ice while kicking. Lie flat and roll away. Once your torso is on firm ice, roll toward thicker ice to distribute your weight.

Once you are out of the water, find shelter and get warm. Change out of wet clothing and find warm, dry coverings. If you are in a remote area, get to or start a campfire. Otherwise, get to a car or house. Seek medical advice from your physician on medical attention.

If someone else falls in you should remember the phrase “Preach-Reach-Throw-Go.” That means you should call 911 if you can. Shout to the victim to reassure them help is on the way. Reach: If you can safely reach them from shore, extend an object like a rope, jumper cables, tree branch, or ladder to them. Throw: Toss one end of a rope or something that will float to the victim. Go: If the situation is too dangerous for you to perform a rescue, call 911 or go to find help. Untrained rescuers can become victims themselves.

Perhaps the most common cause for people going through the ice is when a pet falls in. Do not attempt to rescue the pet, go find help. Well-meaning pet owners can easily become victims themselves when trying to assist their pets. Remember to always keep pets leashed while walking on or near ice. Please use caution and be safe this winter.

I want to thank MassWildlife for these suggestions. This and more information is available at the MassWildlife web page.

The recent snow has been a boon to black powder deer hunters. Many take time off between Christmas and the last day of December to enjoy deer hunting with muzzle-loading firearms and this has been just about perfect, except for the extreme cold. Deer tend to be grouping under these conditions and if you find one, you generally find others. The snow makes for perfect tracking and the black powder numbers should be very good once the season concludes Saturday. That will be this hunter’s last chance. Not having put in time scouting or hunting has led to a predictable result. Prime rib was on sale at Hannaford’s last week, so we ate well at Christmas even without venison for the meat pie.

Happy New Year to all! Enjoy the spectacular moon this weekend. Maybe next week we will talk about some resolutions and goals for the new year.

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Athol Daily News

PO Box 1000
225 Exchange Street
Athol, MA 01331
Phone: (978) 249-3535


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