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Ice safety – when is ice safe?

January 9, 2012

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

When is ice safe?

There really is no sure answer. You can’t judge the strength of ice just by its appearance, age, thickness, temperature, or whether or not the ice is covered with snow.

Strength is based on all these factors – plus the depth of water under the ice, size of the water body, water chemistry and currents, the distribution of the load on the ice, and local climatic conditions.

General ice thickness guidelines

For New, Clear Ice Only
• 2” or less – STAY OFF
• 4” – Ice fishing or other activities on foot
• 5” – Snowmobile or ATV
• 8” - 12” – Car or small pickup
• 12” - 15” – Medium truck

Remember that these thicknesses are merely guidelines for new, clear, solid ice.

Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.

Checking ice thickness

No matter what you are going to do once you get on the ice – like fishing, snowmobiling, skating or even ice boating, it’s a good idea to contact a local bait shop or resort on the lake about ice conditions.

It’s also important to do some checking yourself once you get there.

Several factors affect the relative safety of ice, such as temperature, snow cover and currents. But a very important factor is the actual ice thickness.

Traveling on ice

• Check for known thin ice areas with a local resort or bait shop.

Test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel, ice auger or even a cordless 1/4 inch drill with a long bit.

• Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible.

If you must drive a vehicle, be prepared to leave it in a hurry – keep windows down, unbuckle your seat belt and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers.

• Stay away from alcoholic beverages.

Even “just a couple of beers” are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life.

And contrary to common belief, alcohol actually makes you colder rather than warming you up.

• 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 wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits.

And it’s a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be home made or purchased from most well stocked sporting goods stores that cater to winter anglers.

It’s amazing how difficult it can be to pull yourself back onto the surface of unbroken but wet and slippery ice while wearing a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 lbs of water.

The ice picks really help pulling yourself back onto solid ice.

• CAUTION: Do NOT wear a flotation device when traveling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle!

What if you fall in?

What should you do? First, try not to panic.

This may be easier said than done, unless you have worked out a survival plan in advance.

Read through these steps so that you can be prepared.

1) Don’t remove your winter clothing.

Heavy clothes won’t drag you down, but instead can trap air to provide warmth and flotation.

This is especially true with a snowmobile suit.

2) Turn toward the direction you came.

That’s probably the strongest ice.

3) Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface.

This is where a pair of nails, sharpened screwdrivers or ice picks come in handy in providing the extra traction you need to pull yourself up onto the ice.

4) Kick your feet and dig in your ice picks to work your way back onto the solid ice.

If your clothes have trapped a lot of water, you may have to lift yourself partially out of the water on your elbows to let the water drain before starting forward.

5) Lie flat on the ice once you are out and roll away from the hole to keep your weight spread out.

This may help prevent you from breaking through again.

6) Get to a warm, dry, sheltered area and re-warm yourself immediately.

In moderate to severe cases of cold water hypothermia, you must seek medical attention.

Cold blood trapped in your extremities can come rushing back to your heart after you begin to re-warm.

The shock of the chilled blood may cause ventricular fibrilation leading to a heart attack and death.

What if your vehicle breaks through?

If your car or truck plunges through the ice, the best time to escape is before it sinks, not after.

It will stay afloat a few seconds to several minutes depending on the airtightness of the vehicle.

• While the car is still afloat, the best escape hatches are the side windows since the doors may be held shut by the water pressure.

If the windows are blocked, try to push the windshield or rear window out with your feet or shoulder.

• A vehicle with its engine in the front will sink at a steep angle and may land on its roof if the water is 15 feet or deeper.

As the car starts its final plunge to the bottom, water rapidly displaces the remaining air.

An air bubble can stay in a submerged vehicle, but it is unlikely that it would remain by the time the car hits the bottom.

• When the car is completely filled, the doors may be a little easier to open unless they are blocked by mud and silt.

Remember too, chances are that the car will be upside down at this point.

Add darkness and near freezing water, and your chances of escape have greatly diminished.

This underscores the necessity of getting out of the car before it starts to sink.

What if someone else falls in?

What if someone else falls through and you are the only one around to help?

First, call 911 for help. There is a good chance someone near you may be carrying a cell phone.

Resist the urge to run up to the edge of the hole.

This would most likely result in two victims in the water.

Also, do not risk your life to attempt to save a pet or other animal.

• PREACH – Shout to the victim to encourage them to fight to survive and reassure them that help is on the way.

• REACH – If you can safely reach the victim from shore, extend an object such as a rope, ladder, or jumper cables to the victim.

If the person starts to pull you in, release your grip on the object and start over.

• THROW – Toss one end of a rope or something that will float to the victim.

Have them tie the rope around themselves before they are too weakened by the cold to grasp it.

• ROW – Find a light boat to push across the ice ahead of you.

Push it to the edge of the hole, get into the boat and pull the victim in over the bow.

It’s not a bad idea to attach some rope to the boat, so others can help pull you and the victim to safety.

• GO – A nonprofessional shouldn’t go out on the ice to perform a rescue unless all other basic rescue techniques have been ruled out.

If the situation is too dangerous for you to perform the rescue, call 911 for help and keep reassuring the victim that help is on the way and urge them to fight to survive.

Heroics by well-meaning but untrained rescuers sometimes result in two deaths.

For more information, contact the Minnesota DNR for our free ice safety and hypothermia prevention brochures. Metro (651) 296-6157, or toll free in Greater Minnesota (888) 646-6367.

Carver County PF banquet Jan. 21

The Carver County Chapter of Pheasants Forever annual banquet will take place Saturday, Jan. 21.

Everything starts at the Hamburg community hall at 5 p.m. with social hour and fun gaming events, followed by dinner at 7 p.m.

Proceeds are used to support long term, pheasant population initiatives, as well as local youth outdoor educational events.

Evening premier events will include free youth raffles for prizes, various donation raffles, silent and live auctions, and sponsor raffle and recognition.

Ticket information can be obtained by contacting Chip Hentges at (952) 200-3176, or by e-mail at chipseptic@embarqmail.com.

Da Shiver Ice Fishing tourney Feb. 4

The sixth annual Da Shiver Ice Fishing Tournament is Saturday, Feb. 4, from noon to 3 p.m. on the west end of Lake Sarah. The event benefits the Crow River Youth Hockey Association.

The early bird cost to fish is $35. After Jan. 20, the fee is $40.

Prizes are awarded to the 10 biggest fish, and door prizes will be given away throughout the day. The event also includes a raffle drawing for an Ice Castle fish house.

For more information contact Doug Lawman at dashiver@yahoo.com, (763) 479-1206 or (612) 991-5159.

Fish shelter identification required
From the DNR

Ice conditions on Minnesota waterways may vary, but fish shelter identification violations seem to be consistent, according to conservation officers with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

DNR reminds ice anglers and others that all shelters placed on the ice of Minnesota waters must have either the complete name and address, a driver’s license number, or the nine-digit DNR number on the license of the owner plainly and legibly displayed on the outside, in letters and figures at least two inches high.

Other noteworthy shelter regulations include:

• Shelter may not be left unattended anytime between midnight and one hour prior to sunrise unless the shelter is licensed. (The Department of Public Safety requires registration of trailers used to haul fish houses or dark houses and enclosed trailers or recreational trailers used for fishing. Trailer registration is available from a deputy registrar.)

• A tag, furnished with a license, must be attached to the exterior in a readily visible location.

• Shelters left on the ice overnight need to have at least two square inches of reflective material on each side of the house.

• People may not erect a shelter within 10 feet of an existing shelter.

• A shelter license is not required on border waters with Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota.

• Shelters must comply with the identification requirements of the state for which the angler is licensed.

• Shelters may be used for fishing within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), but must be removed from the ice each night. The structure must be removed from the BWCAW each time the occupant leaves the BWCAW.

Shelter owners are also reminded to take appropriate steps to keep their houses from freezing onto ice surfaces.

With the recent thawing and cooling, it is not uncommon for shelter contact points to become frozen to the ice, providing challenges when it comes to moving or removing the shelters.

A common method used to prevent freezing is to place blocks under the shelter contact points.

Ice anglers are reminded that blocks placed under shelters must be removed and cannot be left on frozen waters.

An easy way to remove a frozen ice block is with a long handled maul or a splitting maul.

A couple of clean strikes will easily free frozen blocks.

DNR conservation officers take aim to free deer
From the DNR

Conservation officers (CO) with the Minnesota Department of Natural resources recently saved a couple of deer by shooting them.

State conservation officer Jeremy Woinarowicz of Thief River Falls received a call Dec. 28 that two bucks were locked together by their antlers in a field near Warren in Polk County.

When Woinarowicz arrived at the scene, he noticed that the larger buck had already died and the live buck was frantically trying to break free.

“I did not have any assistance and I did not want the buck to stay attached any longer. I recalled that several years ago CO Greg Oldakowski of Wadena used his sidearm to shoot the antlers and free a couple of bucks that were locked together,” Woinarowicz said.

“I didn’t know if the buck that was still alive would survive the stress of roping, hog tying and sawing of antlers, so I decided to use the ‘Oldakowski Method.’”

Taking care and careful aim not to harm the live buck, Woinarowicz shot multiple tines off of each of the bucks, but that was not enough to free them. He decided he needed more firepower.

“I retrieved my duty shotgun from my patrol vehicle.

A single well-placed slug on the dead buck’s antlers did the trick.

The antlers flew apart and the live buck bounded away with one antler attached, and lived to fight another day,” Woinarowicz said.

Meanwhile across the state in Cook County, CO Darin Fagerman of Grand Marais received a call Tuesday of a buck with its antlers wrapped up in a hammock.

“It was dark and the deer was extremely tangled in the hammock, but the buck was still on its feet and able to move,” Fagerman said.

Fagerman and the caller cautiously approached the buck a couple of times to see if they could position themselves to free the animal, but each time the buck turned and kicked its hind legs in their direction.

Fagerman said the hammock was so wrapped up on one of the buck’s antlers that there was little hope of releasing it without injuring himself or the caller.

Killing the deer was “the last thing I wanted to do, but I was running out of time and options,” he said.

Approaching the deer with his flashlight and sidearm, Fagerman shot but missed when the deer moved. It proved to be a saving shot.

“The gunshot startled the buck, which then pulled straight back on the hammock, exposing about two inches of the antler just above the base of the head,” Fagerman said. “Thankfully, the buck stayed still and I was then able to shoot the antler off. The deer, wasting no time, then ran off into the darkness,” Fagerman said.

Conservation officers never know what they may encounter.

SE stream trout season offers break from ice fishing
From the DNR

While most Minnesota anglers focus on ice fishing this time of year, those hankering for something different might want to cast their attention toward southeastern Minnesota, where the stream trout season opened Jan. 1.

The southeast’s winter trout fishing season is the result of the increasing popularity of trout fishing and requests from anglers to expand the number of streams open to winter fishing.

The season is catch-and-release, and only barbless hooks may be used.

Currently, about 135 miles on 38 streams are open to winter trout angling through March 31.

Maps of open streams can be found at: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fishing/trout_streams/winter.html.

DNR Lanesboro Area Fisheries Manager Steve Klotz offers several suggestions for a safe and productive winter trout fishing adventure.

• Use caution when approaching trout streams, because trout are normally skittish, and a dry fall has resulted in low flows and clear water in many streams.

• Trout have just finished spawning for the year, so anglers should minimize walking in streams to avoid disturbing trout eggs.

• Avoid handling trout out of the water when temperatures are cold as it can stress the fish.

• Be careful about parking and walking when there is snow and ice on the ground.

Also, don’t take any chances with shelf ice that may form along stream banks.

• Anglers who stay dry will stay warm.

• Tell someone about your trip plans.

The DNR implemented the winter trout fishing season in 1988 following improved water quality in the 1980s, which created good natural trout reproduction in southeast coldwater streams.

The goal has been to provide additional recreational opportunities without harming the trout resource.

This resource is particularly vulnerable during fall spawning and the stress of winter.

DNR creel surveys and other studies have shown that the winter catch-and-release season does not cause any negative impacts to trout populations.

CO Weekly Reports
From the DNR

• CO Wayne Hatlestad (Litchfield) checked angling and spearing activity.
Additional time was spent checking ATV and trapping activity.
Hatlestad also handled a big game complaint and enforced state forestry fire laws.