President’s Perspective – Ice

Many favourite outdoor activities take place on or near ice surfaces during Canadian winters. Ice usually appears on our lakes in mid to late fall and can remain well into the spring. As much as we love to skate, toboggan, snowmobile, and fish, ice over bodies of water can pose some serious, life threatening dangers.

Over a ten-year period there were 150 ice immersion deaths from falling through the ice during non-motorized activities on the ice, 246 immersion deaths involving snowmobiles, and 41 immersion deaths involving other vehicles on ice. Snowmobiles accounted for over half of all ice immersion fatalities, and alcohol was a factor in 59 per cent of these cases.

When going out on to ice surfaces it is best to avoid alcohol or any other substance that may impair your judgment, especially when snowmobiling. Alcohol may also speed up the development of hypothermia. Avoid travelling at night when it is very difficult to see open holes in the ice. This is a frequent cause of snowmobile drownings.

It is best to use designated ice surfaces. These designated areas should be maintained by knowledgeable personnel and regularly tested to ensure that the ice is thick enough and strong enough for recreational use. Local conditions such as currents and water depths can affect ice thickness. Staying off river ice is advisable, as river currents can quickly change ice thickness over night or between different parts of the river. Consult knowledgeable local individuals before going out on any ice surface.

The colour of ice may be an indication of its strength. Clear blue ice is strongest. White opaque or snow ice is half as strong as blue ice. Opaque ice is formed by wet snow freezing on the ice. Grey ice is unsafe. The grayness indicates the presence of water.

Minimum ice thickness for new clear hard ice:
3” (7cm) or less STAY OFF
4” (10cm) ice fishing, walking, cross country skiing
5” (12cm) one snowmobile or ATV
8”-12” (20-30cm) one car or small pickup truck
12”-15” (30-38cm) one medium truck (pickup or van)

When snowmobiling, wear a lifejacket or PFD (personal flotation device) over your clothes to increase your chances of survival if you fall through the ice. Also take safety equipment with you, including ice picks, rope, a pocketknife, a compass, a whistle, a fire starter kit and a cell phone. Travelling with another person is a good idea. A friend may be able to rescue you or go for help if you run into difficulties. Have an emergency plan in place, so you know what to do if someone falls through the ice. Before you leave, make sure to tell someone where you are going and when you should be expected back.

If you drive on ice, turn on your lights and have an escape plan. Open your windows and unlock your doors to allow you to quickly escape from your vehicle.

Ensure that children are always supervised when playing on or near ice. Insist that they wear a lifejacket/PFD or thermal protection buoyant suit.

Remember that if you are not absolutely sure the ice surface is safe to go on, keep off. For more information visit the Lifesaving Society website.

Safety, It’s an Attitude

Jack Smith, President