When is ice safe?
The simple answer is never; no ice is safe ice. This is the message that the Coast Guard advocates. The reality is that people will be on the ice for a variety of recreation opportunities including fishing, snowmobiling, skating and skiing. The Michigan DNR does not measure ice thickness and there is no reliable "inch-thickness" to determine if ice is safe. Your safety is your responsibility!
- Test ice thickness and quality using a spud, needle bar or auger.
- Strongest ice: Clear with bluish tint.
- Weak ice: ice formed by melted and refrozen snow. Appears milky.
Tools you'll need
- Spud: Long-shank with a chisel-like end that’s used to chip a hole in the ice. Use this when the ice isn’t too thick.
- Auger: Corkscrew-like device with a cutting blade that operates like a hand drill to make a hole in the ice.
- Ice picks/claws
- Two-way communication device (Make sure it receives signal)!
Ice covered by snow:
- Should always be considered unsafe.
- Snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows freezing process.
- Ice under snow is thin and weak.
- A recent snowfall can melt existing ice.
- Stay off ice with slush on top. Slush ice is only half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice is not freezing from the bottom.
- A sudden cold front with low temperatures can create cracks within a half-day.
- A warm spell may take several days to weaken ice, and cause the ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night.
- Ice weakens with age.
- If there’s ice on the lake but water around the shoreline, be extra cautious.
- Stronger the current on the lake, the more likely the ice will give to open water.
- Avoid areas of ice with protruding debris like logs or brush.
If you do break through the ice:
- Remain calm
- Don’t remove winter clothing. Heavy clothes won’t drag you down, but instead help provide warmth.
- Turn in the water toward the direction you came from, this is most likely the strongest ice.
- If you have ice picks, dig the points of the picks into the ice while vigorously kicking your feet to pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice
- Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.
- Get to shelter and remove your wet clothing, redressing in warm, dry clothing and consume warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages as soon as you can.
- Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia, which is a life-threatening condition