Stay off the ice
It seems it should go without saying that people — and motorized vehicles — should stay off the ice unless they know how thick it is. Sadly, earlier this week, four people did not heed that advice and died after riding snowmobiles on Rangeley Lake. The following are partial guidelines from Maine Warden Service:
2 inches or less — stay off!
4 inches may allow ice fishing or other activities on foot
5 inches often allows for snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle travel
8 to 12 inches of good ice will support most cars or small pickups
12 to 15 inches will likely hold a medium-sized truck
What if someone else falls in?
If someone else falls through and you are the only one around to help? First, call 911 for help. There is a good chance someone near you may be carrying a cell phone.
Resist the urge to run up to the edge of the hole. This would most likely result in two victims in the water. Also, do not risk your life to attempt to save a pet or other animal.
Preach, Reach, Throw, Row, Go
PREACH — Shout to the victim to encourage them to fight to survive and reassure them that help is on the way.
REACH — If you can safely reach the victim from shore, extend an object such as a rope, ladder, or jumper cables to the victim. If the person starts to pull you in, release your grip on the object and start over.
THROW — Toss one end of a rope or something that will float to the victim. Have them tie the rope around themselves before they are too weakened by the cold to grasp it.
ROW — Find a light boat to push across the ice ahead of you. Push it to the edge of the hole, get into the boat and pull the victim in over the bow. It’s not a bad idea to attach some rope to the boat, so others can help pull you and the victim to safety.
GO — A non-professional should not go out on the ice to perform a rescue unless all other basic rescue techniques have been ruled out.
New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly-formed ice may support one person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially-thawed ice may not. Ice seldom freezes uniformly. It may be a foot thick in one location and only an inch or two just a few feet away. Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous. This is especially true near streams, bridges, and culverts. In addition, the ice on outside river bends is usually weaker due to the undermining effects of the faster current. The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. The extra weight also reduces how much weight the ice sheet can support. Also, ice near shore can be weaker than ice that is farther out. Booming and cracking ice isn’t necessarily dangerous. It only means that the ice is expanding and contracting as the temperature changes. Schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl can also adversely affect the relative safety of ice. The movement of fish can bring warm water up from the bottom of the lake. In the past, this has opened holes in the ice causing snowmobiles and cars to break through.
If your car or truck plunges through the ice, the best time to escape is before it sinks, not after. It will stay afloat a few seconds to several minutes depending on the air tightness of the vehicle.
While the car is still afloat, the best escape hatches are the side windows since the doors may be held shut by the water pressure. If the windows are blocked, try to push the windshield or rear window out with your feet or shoulder.
The following guidelines can help you make wise choices:
- Check for known thin ice areas with a local resort or bait shop.
- Test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel or ice auger.
- Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible.
- Stay away from alcoholic beverages. Even "just a couple of beers" are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life. And contrary to common belief, alcohol actually makes you colder rather than warming you up.
- Don't "overdrive" your snowmobile's headlight. At even 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was traveling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated the hole in the ice.
- Wear a life vest under your winter gear. Or wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits but do not wear a flotation device inside an enclosed vehicle.
And it's a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be homemade or purchased from most well stocked sporting goods stores that cater to winter anglers. The ice picks really help pulling yourself back onto solid ice.