Winter anglers and late-season hunters are reminded to consider ice conditions before traveling onto and across North Dakota lakes, as most small and mid-sized waters currently give the appearance of safe foot travel.
State Game and Fish Department boat and water safety coordinator Nancy Boldt said ice thickness is never consistent, especially this time of the year, and can vary significantly within a few inches. “The edges become firm before the center,” Boldt said. “So, with your first step the ice might seem like it is strong enough, but it may not be anywhere near solid enough once you progress away from the shoreline.”
This was apparent last weekend as one hunter experienced this while trying to retrieve a duck that had landed on ice. “He went through up to his neck and his waders filled with water, and the freezing temperature instantly took his breath away,” Boldt said. “He was extremely fortunate to be able to pull himself out, as most people would not have been able to with the extra water weight.”
Boldt said some tips include:
- Avoid cracks, pressure ridges, slushy or darker areas that signal thinner ice. The same goes for ice that forms around partially submerged trees, brush, embankments or other structures.
- Ice thickness is not consistent and can vary significantly even in a small area. Ice shouldn’t be judged by appearance alone. Anglers should drill test holes as they make their way out on the lake, and an ice chisel should be used to check ice thickness while moving around.
- Daily temperature changes cause ice to expand and contract, affecting its strength.
- The following minimums are recommended for travel on clear-blue lake ice formed under ideal conditions. However, early in the winter it’s a good idea to double these figures to be safe: 4 inches for a group walking single file; 6 inches for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle; 8-12 inches for an automobile; and 12-15 inches for a pickup/truck.
These tips could help save a life:
- Wear a personal flotation device and carry a cell phone.
- Carry ice picks or a set of screwdrivers to pull yourself back on the ice if you fall through.
- If someone breaks through the ice, call 911 immediately. Rescue attempts should employ a long pole, board, rope, blanket or snowmobile suit. If that’s not possible, throw the victim a life jacket, empty water jug or other buoyant object. Go to the victim as a last resort, but do this by forming a human chain where rescuers lie on the ice with each person holding the feet of the person in front.
- To treat hypothermia, replace wet clothing with dry clothing and immediately transport victim to a hospital.