The Happy Camper: Ice Safety Guide

Kevin Callan—The Happy Camper—talks about how to be safe out on the ice this winter.

Credit: Kevin Callan

I watched a bunch of ice-fishermen backtalk the police the other day.

Ice had just formed on the lake two days previous. Temperatures reached -15 degrees Celsius both nights, and then went up to -1. I guess they thought that was good enough to stroll out on the lake and put a line in for some panfish.

The neighbours came out and yelled at them to get off the ice. Nothing. The police were called. Nothing. An advisory was given and they continued to fish.

They were lucky. None of them went through. They mocked the onlookers—and the police.

Don’t be fooled. It’s a late-winter in most parts of Canada. A good layer of ice takes more than a couple of days.

Here are a few key points to remember.

Safe Ice Guide:

  • 5 cm (2 inches): Extremely dangerous; don’t even think about it.
  • 10 cm (4 inches): OK for figure skaters and ice anglers.
  • 18 cm (7 inches): Just enough for snowmobiles.
  • 20 to 30 cm (8-12 inches): Can handle a small car or All-Terrain Vehicle.

* Take note that all ice should be considered unsafe at first. River currents, snow depth and the amount of times the ice has thawed and then re-froze can be an important issue.

Tips for Traveling on Ice:

  • Always walk in single-file and well spread-out when walking in groups.
  • Stay clear of creek- or river-mouths, where currents keep the ice from forming properly.
  • Carry a long pole. You can use it to poke-check the ice as you go, as well as hold it horizontally in case you break through.
  • Place ice-grips around your neck or wear a sheath knife to help you crawl back on the surface if you break through.
  • If you happen to fall through the ice, try to remember to keep your arms stretched out. Quickly start breaking the thin ice around you. Then slide and roll on top of the harder surface. Make sure to keep low, and your weight well-distributed. Immediately head for shore and get warm and dry as soon as possible.
  • Stay off the ice anytime you are in doubt of its safety.