Unfortunately, one of the most common causes of snowmobile deaths is thin ice. When winters are exceptionally warm, some bodies of water may only be partially frozen, greatly increasing the risk of an accident on the ice.
The best option when you come across a frozen lake or pond is to find a way around it. If you must cross it, or if you want to park and go ice fishing, there are ways to determine if the ice is safe enough to drive on.
The safest ice is blue/clear, and it will be on top of non-running waters. For this type of ice, if the thickness is 2 inches or less, stay off. If the ice is 4 inches thick, then it is good enough to walk on for ice fishing. When the ice is 5 inches or more, you can typically ride a snowmobile or ATV on it.
When the ice is white/opaque, it should be twice as thick as blue/clear ice. When the ice is gray or white/mottled gray, do not go on it! In addition, avoid traveling on ice near docks. Bubblers are usually in place to protect docks from the ice, so the area around docks may have very thin ice.
Ice may not be uniform across an entire body of water, so don’t assume it’s safe to cross if the ice is thick around the shore. For extra protection, wear a snowmobile suit with built-in flotation. Bring ice picks as a precaution.
This may sound like a lot of safety tips to keep in mind, but each one will ensure your snowmobile trips go smoothly this winter.
- Don’t drink and ride.
Drinking always impairs judgment. And whether this means not checking ice conditions or driving too fast, lack of judgment and frozen (or not frozen) water can be deadly.
- Slow down (and slow down even more at night).
Especially at night, it’s hard to know what’s out there on the lake. Whether sketchy ice, a bridge column or an ice fishing hut, you won’t see it in time if you override your headlight.
- Check the condition of the ice.
Experts say there’s no way to know for sure if the ice is safe. That means extreme caution is required. Snowmobiles need 5 inches of clear solid ice. Check with a trusted local source (like a bait shop) and check the ice yourself when you get there.
- Don’t ride alone. And make a ride plan.
Riding with a buddy can be a lifesaver in any number of situations. Even if you are travelling with a friend, tell someone else your plan and check in when you arrive safely.
- Know what to do if you go through.
Going through the ice is a bad situation. But it doesn’t have to be fatal. Review what to do before you go out, and if something should happen, stay calm but act quickly. Carry ice picks and use them to pull yourself out on the edge where you broke through, which will be the most solid edge. This is a good video demonstrating the use of ice picks.
If you do fall through the ice:
- Remain calm. Your body’s initial response when exposed to frigid water is shock including increased heart and breathing rates. It’s important to resist your first instinct to gasp or inhale water.
- Face the direction you came from. That ice was strong enough to support you and trying to pull yourself out in another direction may put you on weaker ice.
- Don’t try to pull yourself up vertically, instead position your body horizontal to the ice, kick your legs and use your arms and upper body to shimmy forward on the ice. Try to distribute your body weight over as large an area as possible. If you have ice picks, keys, a knife or another sharp object use it to help you gain traction on the ice.
- Once you are out of the water roll away from the hole do not stand up until you are certain you are once again on solid ice.
- Keep moving and find shelter immediately. Hypothermia is still a serious concern. It is important to get warm and dry as soon as possible.
Stay Safe and have fun!
Posted by Scott Freerksen “The Lake Guy”