‘Tis the season for ice safety precautions
Whenever my brothers were irritating my father (not me, I was a perfect child), he would say to them, “You better watch it, you’re walking on thin ice.”
That meant you were on the edge of catastrophe and needed to shape up fast. I often remember his words when I’m venturing out on thin ice, literally. It’s flirting with disaster, and without thorough planning, the result can be disastrous, even tragic.
Safety warnings tell us to wait for three inches of ice before walking out, five to six inches for ATVs, and 10-plus inches for driving. Of course, I always see anglers out on a couple inches and some of the lighter wheel houses and smaller skid houses on eight inches of ice. Some people just cannot wait. I must confess, I am one of those people.
I need at least a couple inches of good, solid black ice to go out. I’m extremely careful, using a spud bar to test the ice every few steps. I stick to familiar spots and understand the currents and water depths. I never venture too far from shore, and I always wear floatation and carry ice spikes and rope. I never go out on my own until the ice is very thick.
I learned one good lesson about 15 years ago when I decided to shoot some photos of me pulling my submerged body from a hole in the ice. My son Jason and I took a chainsaw to a nearby lake and cut a jagged hole in the ice in 15 feet of water and I jumped in. He started taking pictures of me trying to pull myself out with the ice spikes. I couldn’t do it. There was some current under the ice, my boots filled up with water, my outerwear soaked immediately, and I couldn’t get a good grip with the spikes. After a few minutes, I was shaking like a leaf and didn’t have the upper body strength to pull myself out with the spikes, so we used a rope to pull me out. The lesson here: Carry some ice spikes to keep you positioned in the hole, but don’t count on them to get you onto the ice. Always carry rope.
I get asked a lot about the new float suits. Good or bad? Anything that can keep you buoyant if you bust through the ice is a good thing. I’ve broken through a half dozen times over the years and it happens so fast you have little time to react. I laugh when people brag that the ice was cracking and they had time to back up onto thicker ice. That just meant they weren’t quite on ice thin enough to break under their weight. When you hit a thin patch that won’t hold you, you go down so fast there is no time to back up.
It cannot be said enough: If you are venturing out on thin ice, be extremely careful. Take every precaution and realize it only takes a few minutes in that super cold water to render you unable to function.