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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Winter boondocker? Be careful on the ice

RVers who venture out in the cold are often familiar with icy driving conditions. But there's another danger afforded by ice: Winter recreation on ice. Sports like ice-fishing, skating, or walking about on a frozen pond. A few pointers can help you avoid going up the creek--even a frozen one.

"When is it safe to walk on ice?" is a $64,000 question. Sure, water freezes at 32 degrees, but that doesn't mean if the weather is below freezing that the ice is safe. The safest approach is to wait to walk on ice until after safety officials have indicated that a given body is safe. Even then, never consider the ice 100% safe. Always "partner" on the ice, never walk (skate, etc) on ice alone. Be careful around snow-covered ice, as the thickness under snow can't safely be assumed.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources provides these general ice thickness guidelines:

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

These are general guidelines, there are many other factors that can make ice safe or unsafe.

What if the unthinkable happens--and someone falls through the ice? For the victim, the most important survival tactic is staying calm. Don't take time to struggle out of clothing, turn in the direction from where you wound up in the water, put your hands on an unbroken ice area, and kick your feet to try and get a push out of the water and back up on the ice. Once back up on the ice, don't try standing, roll or slide across the ice toward safety.

If you can't get back up out of the water, stay calm to conserve energy. Call for help. If you see someone fall through ice, stay back, call 911 immediately. The only safe way to try a rescue is reaching the victim with an object--not with yourself. Tree branches, oars, ski poles, even a fishing rod can extend your reach without putting you in danger of going into the drink yourself. Carrying a few safety supplies when out on the ice can be helpful. A rope or webbing that can be stowed in a pocket can be tossed out to a victim. Some wear a personal flotation device (we used to call them "life jackets") when venturing out on ice.

As heart rending as it may seem, if you can't reach the victim with what you have on hand, the best thing for all concerned is to call 911 and wait for help to arrive.

photo: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

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