Close MENU  Main Menu

Everything you need to know about thin ice

  • Jan 25, 2017

Whether you're playing hockey, going fishing or simply adventuring outdoors, thin ice is a very serious hazard. Falling through could lead to injury, hypothermia or even drowning, and once you're in the cold water, it can be quite difficult to free yourself.

By knowing a bit about the recent weather conditions, you can make a good assessment about the thickness of the ice. And should you fall in, simple survival techniques could be the difference between life and death.

Deciding whether or not the ice is safe
Outdoor Canada found that there is a simple formula for calculating how thick the ice on a pond or lake is. Start by finding the average temperature for the day using the daily high and nighttime low. So a range of 25 F and 15 F would mean a daily average of 20 F. Next, subtract this number from 32 F, the freezing point of water, to calculate the number of freezing days. In our example, we get 12 days. Outdoor Canada stated that once a thin layer of ice has formed, it will increase in thickness at a rate of one inch per 15 freezing days.

Use your PRG300-7 with watch compass to calculate the daily high and low temperatures to assess the ice thickness. Take into account things like rain or unseasonably warm days that could diminish ice coverage. Be sure to look for warning signs like obvious cracks or pools of water before venturing out to skate or go ice fishing.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported that you should never venture onto ice that is less than four inches thick. Vehicles will need several more inches to safely travel onto a frozen pond or lake.

What to do if you fall in
Falling through the ice can be an extremely serious situation, and above all else, you will need to be calm. The freezing water will trigger your body to go into shock, and may cause you to breath very rapidly and cloud your judgment. In situations where the water is deep, you might need to swim to an opening.

Kick as hard as you can to get back up onto the ice and roll your body away from the opening. 

Avoiding hypothermia
The Mayo Clinic stated that just a 4 degree drop in body temperature can result in hypothermia, and wet clothing amid freezing conditions can quickly increase the likelihood of this serious condition. 

In minor instances where someone in your party gets a little wet and chilled, there are straightforward steps to take. Replace any wet or moist clothing with warm layers. Have the person move their body and get them out of the cold if possible. Food and hot liquids can also be helpful in returning the person's body temperature back to normal. A campfire or body-to-body contact can warm the person further.

According to Princeton University, if someone can't stop shivering, displays a very rapid heart rate or has limited cognitive abilities, more serious hypothermia may be setting in. This demands a different approach.

Wrap the person in a way that keeps the elements out but isn't too constricted, as that can cause sweating. Keep the person off the ground or inside if possible. Involuntary urination may occur and this extra moisture can be a problem as well. Someone suffering from extreme hypothermia won't digest food but can drink warm water with sugar. Heat packs and other tools work alongside added clothing or blankets, but there is a risk of afterdrop. Warm the core, not the extremities, as displaced cold blood can otherwise travel to the heart and brain and cause worse problems.

Because of the considerable risk, be very cautious about navigating an icy pond or lake.

Related Watches