Watch out for thin ice

It is winter, and it is cold. Still, temperatures have been above normal, and ice fishermen need to watch out for thin ice.

For example.

An ice fisherman went through the ice about 11:15 a.m. Thursday near Butler’s Island the Kipling boat launch site in Delta County.

The ice fisherman was standing on top of his submerged four-wheeler but needed assistance in being removed from the situation. A rescue hovercraft from Gladstone Public Safety was utilized and the Gladstone man was assisted in getting to shore.

He was treated at the scene for some exposure concerns but was not transported to any medical facility.

And on Jan. 12, two adult males and a male juvenile were assisted off the ice by a passer-by with a four-wheeler after the trio went through the ice around 7 p.m. near the public access site at the mouth of the Days River, also in Delta County.

None of the victims, who are Alger County residents, needed to be taken to the hospital.

There’s no better reminder that ice conditions are iffy at best, and, precautions that must be taken.

Walking around on top of deep bodies of water in winter weather is not to be taken lightly.

Ice safety must always be a concern.

When is ice safe? There is no sure answer. Ice is tricky, and just because a lake or stream is frozen doesn’t mean the ice is safe.

Each year, regretfully, we are forced to report about individuals in the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin who wandered onto unsafe ice – sometimes with tragic results.

To understand ice safety, it’s necessary to understand how ice forms.

The following are some key points to remember:

– You can’t tell the strength of ice just by its appearance, the daily temperature, thickness or whether the ice is covered with snow or not. Ice strength is based on all four factors, plus the depth of the water under the ice, the size of the water body and its chemistry.

– Generally speaking, new ice is much stronger than old ice. A few inches of new ice may be strong enough to support you, while a foot or more of old ice may not.

– The ice cover can be several inches thick in one spot yet only an inch thick nearby.

– A cover of snow insulates ice, slowing down the ice-forming process. The additional weight of the snow can also decrease the weight-bearing capacity of the ice cover.

– Ice is weaker near shore. The buckling action of a lake or stream over winter is continually breaking and refreezing the ice along its shores.

– Ice over flowing water can be dangerous, especially near shore. The ice on straight smooth-flowing stretches of a river is safer than that over bends in the river. River mouths are dangerous.

– Fluctuations in water level and the actions of birds and fish can also weaken ice. Schools of carp, for example, create thin spots in ice covers, even open water by congregating in one location while circulating the water below with their fins.

Tips for going out on the ice:

– Clear, solid ice uniformly at least two inches is usually sufficient to hold a single person walking on foot. Ice fishing requires at least four inches of ice, and a snowmobile, five inches. Automobiles and light trucks require at least eight inches to a foot of ice. Remember, these are merely guidelines. There is no sure answer to when ice is safe.

– Before you head onto ice, check with local bait shops and resorts about areas where ice is known to be thin.

– Refrain from driving onto the ice in a car or truck. If you must drive on the ice, be prepared to leave your vehicle in a hurry. Unbuckle your seat belt and make a simple plan of action in case you break through. Some safety experts recommend keeping the windows rolled down for an easy exit.

– If you drive onto the ice, prolonged parking is not recommended, especially if the thickness of the ice is marginal. Vehicles should be moved from time to time so the ice can resume its previous position and shape.

– Vehicles parked close together may depress the ice beyond its bending limit, causing it to break. A vehicle surrounded by ice cracks is in great danger.

– If you drive across ice that has cracked and refrozen, cross the cracks at right angles and avoid parking near them.

– Often vehicles will establish “roads” leading from shore to the current ice fishing hot spot. After repeated use, these roads may cause the ice to weaken.

– If you’re on a snowmobile or driving a vehicle, be especially cautious at night or when it’s snowing. Falling snow and darkness can obscure spots of thin ice.

– If you break through the ice, proper clothing can increase your chances of survival. An ordinary nylon snowmobile suit, if it is zipped up, can trap air and slow your body’s heat loss. The vest-type foam personal flotation devices worn under your outer clothing, can help keep you warm, conserve body heat and keep you afloat. Don’t wear a personal flotation device while traveling across ice inside a car or truck, however. If your vehicle goes under with you inside, a personal flotation device could hamper your escape.

– Carry a couple of large nails and a length of light nylon rope with you. The nails can help you pull yourself from the water on slippery wet ice. Tie them onto the ends of a small separate piece of rope and drape it over your shoulders so you can get to them quickly if you fall in. The nylon rope is for rescuing someone else.

– If you break through, don’t panic. To climb out, turn toward the direction you came from and put your hands and arms on the unbroken surface. Work forward on the ice by kicking your legs and using those nails to claw your way onto the ice. Once you are lying on the ice, don’t stand up. Roll away from the break until you’re on solid ice. Once you’re on safe ice, get to shelter and warm yourself immediately.