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Ice Fishing Safety

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Ice fishing safety is a matter of common sense, taking a few precautionary measures, and paying attention. Always keep in mind that You, Alone, are Responsible for your own Safety, so if you're new to the sport, take some time to educate yourself.

Even if you're very experienced, don't take it for granted. You might find something useful here, or share this page with someone that may. You may play a hand in saving a life, maybe even your own.

Ice Fishing Safety - General Precautions

° Don't go out alone!

° Tell Someone: Tell someone where you're going and when to you'll return. Get word to them if those plans change.

° Ice Thickness: Evaluate ice thickness and quality as you go out. Clear ice is much stronger than snow ice. Snow (white) ice is full of air bubbles and ice fractures, and is at least 50% weaker than clear ice. In other words, 4" of snow ice may be weaker than 2" of clear ice. Ice fishing safety requires knowing what you're standing on.

° Ice Thickness: As far as thickness is concerned, I don't fish on less than 4" of clear ice, and I prefer 5" or 6". Many people fish on less, but it's not for me. The following thicknesses vary with different ice fishing safety sources, but are not valid for ice covered rivers, or areas near inlets and spillways.

Water moving below the ice erodes it away in unpredictable ways. Fishing ice capped moving waters requires EXTREME CAUTION, as the ice conditions can vary greatly from step to step. No Fish is worth falling through the ice for, and certainly no fish is worth losing your life for.

Ok - Snowmobiles and ATV’s need at least 6" of clear ice. Cars and light trucks need at least 9-12 inches of good clear ice. If you choose to drive a vehicle out on the ice, it is best to roll your windows down so that you could escape if you should punch through. Also, drive slow, like 15 mph or less, as rapid moving vehicles can cause reverberations beneath the ice that cause cracking, and worse.

° Recent Temperatures: Ice loses its strength when air temperatures stay above freezing for 24 hours or more. If this is the case, all bets are off. Whatever you believe to be true about safe ice thickness may be invalid. The ice may be unsafe, plain and simple. Also rapid decreasing temperatures cause the ice to get brittle, requiring thicker minimum ice thicknesses to support loads. Ice may be unsafe for 24 hours or more.

How thick does it need to be? A simple formula to estimate the minimum ice thickness required to support a load is



- where h is the ice thickness in inches and P is the load, or gross weight, in tons
This is minimum thickness of good, clear ice. Double the thickness if the ice is not clear ice. I double it anyways, so you have a built in safety factor.

Example: Lets say two guys averaging 200 lbs each, with an additional 200 lbs of gear, want to figure out the absolute bare minumum ice thickness required to support them, clear ice. Total load is 600 lbs, which is 0.30 tons. The square root of 0.3 = 0.55, so the minimum thickness (h) is 4 x .55 = 2.2", about 2-1/4", if they are spread out over a reasonable distance.
Being the cautious person that I am, I would double that and say it should be about 4-1/2" thick.

For a much more detailed discussion on this subject, here is a link to the U.S. ARMY Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory



° Sloping Ice: Beware of ice sloping downward from the shoreline. This indicates a drop in the water level below the ice. There may be air between the ice and the water surface. This is an unsafe condition and must be avoided at all costs! Ice must be supported by water underneath for the ice strength characteristics to be valid.

° Moving Water: Remember, moving water erodes ice away from underneath, often times giving little or no indication on the surface. Keep a good distance from inlets and spillways, and probe or test drill the ice more frequently, if you're in the vicinity.

° Edges: It's important to keep in mind that ice forms from the edges in, but also melts from the edges in. As the air temps warm, the shorelines warm, and start the melting from the edges. It can be a little tricky getting on and off the ice toward the end of the season.

° Early & Late Ice: Although the fishing is often best during early ice, and again near ice out, the ice fishing safety is even more important, as the ice can be more dangerous. Late ice is more unpredictable than early ice, as it is eroding, rather than building. Always keep this in mind.

Ice fishing safety boils down to common sense, and paying attention. Be safe and you'll have a great time ice fishing!




Any discussion on Ice Fishing Safety should at least touch on Clothing. Fortunately, there are many 'Outdoor' companies that specialize in clothing designed for warmth in extremely cold temperatures. One thing to consider is investing in an ice suit that is buoyant, just in case you ever do punch through. For a more in depth discussion on cold weather clothing, see... Ice Fishing Clothing

In addition to Clothing, remember to protect your eyes and exposed skin from the sun. Studies show that people underestimate the potential dangers of winter solar rays.

The sun is lower in the sky, making the angle of the rays more harmful. The sun's intensity is compounded by reflections off of snow and ice. It is like a double whammy.

You gotta protect your eyes and skin.





Ice Fishing Safety Equipment

Here are some ice fishing safety items to have along, especially during early and late ice conditions:

° PFD: Wear a PFD (personal flotation device). (Or a flotation suit.) Inflatable type PFDs are really a good idea, any time you're on the ice. If you should ever happen to fall through, just the shear shock of the cold water will be a confusing jolt. Pulling the cord and seeing your PFD inflate, OR just seeing your auto-hydrostatic type auto inflate, will make you breathe a sigh of relief, allowing you to gather your thoughts so you can get out of the water. They are low profile, and light-weight. You basically forget you have them on. Check this one out... Auto Inflating PFD

° Hand Ice Picks: Hand ice picks, strung together and run through your coat sleeves, is a good idea that could literally save your life. Basically, you grab them and reach as far out over the ice as you can and dig them in, giving you a way of pulling yourself out. Don't laugh this off. Lives are lost every year that could have been prevented by taking a few precautionary measures. Here is a pair from HT Enterprises...

Hand Ice Picks

° Ice Cleats: Ice Cleats provide traction in all winter conditions, but are a necessity if fishing on an ice covered lake lacking snow cover. They give you more solid footing when drilling holes as well. Here is what I wear... Korkers Ice Fishing Cleats

° Ice Chisel (spud bar): During early ice, as well as late ice, you should consider ice fishing safety even more. You'll need a Chisel to probe the ice ahead of you. Frequently test the ice thickness and ice quality, as you progress.

Jiffy Chisels




Additional ice fishing safety items for all ice seasons

° Rope: Have a 50' length of rope on your sled, and possibly a ring buoy to toss to someone in distress.

° Compass: It's good practice to have a compass along, and take readings while en route. Know the direction of your return course, in case an unexpected blizzard should catch you out on the lake. Have a compass, and know how to use it. A GPS is another good idea. Here are a few inexpensive options... Backtracking Devices

° A Portable Shelter is (or permanent shelter) like most of these items, is a matter of personal preference. In addition to comfort reasons, I consider them to be a very important safety consideration as well...and don't forget the heater.





Thanks for reading and GOOD LUCK ice fishing.

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