Iced over water holds a fatal attraction for risk takers. There’s something about the allure of walking on what’s normally accessible only by boat. But be forewarned. The risks of an accident on a unsupervised pond or lake are even greater these days thanks to global warming. Just this week a group fell through the ice in a large pond in New York’s Central Park. And there have been several deaths already this year in Minnesota.
Where ice packs once had been reliably thick, they are now thinner and more prone to crack. The reports of accidents come in with unsettling frequency. The first thing to remember is that there is no such thing as 100 percent risk free ice.
There are, of course plenty of good reasons for taking to the ice. Skating and ice fishing are two that immediately come to mind. Here are some tips to take before venturing out on seemingly solid footing:
- Don’t walk out on the ice until there’s at least 4 inches of clear solid ice. Look for clear, bluish ice. White ice is not as strong.
- Snowmobiles and ATV’s need at least 5 inches of solid ice. Cars and light trucks require 8-12 inches.
- Learn about the nature of the body of water. Is it all the same depth, fresh or salt water, are there cracks, has it been refrozen?
- Always go out on the ice with a buddy, and keep a fair amount of distance between the two of you.
- Wear a life jacket if you’re on foot. Don’t wear one in a car. It might hinder your escape.
- Take a bag with spare clothes and emergency supplies, including a blanket, hand and foot warmers, thick socks, spare hats, candles and matches. Carry two ice picks or screwdrivers tied together with a cord. You can use them to help pull yourself out if you fall in. Remember to use wooden handles. Otherwise, they’ll sink right to the bottom.
- Be prepared to bail if you’re in a car (and of course avoid driving on the ice if you can). You should take off your seat belt and drive with the windows open and think about keeping the doors cracked open. Don’t park in one place for a long time.
- Avoid alcohol! That’s an accident just waiting to happen.
The most important rule: If you’re in doubt, don’t go out. That’s especially true at the beginning and end of the season. That extra day on the ice just isn’t worth it. That said, if you use caution and common sense there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a day on the pond.