On the Ridge: Stay safe on the ice

  • Joe Judd Contributed photo

Published: 1/22/2020 7:36:40 PM

Wintertime in Massachusetts means that residents everywhere are venturing out for fishing, skating, and other great winter activities. Keeping mindful of how to stay safe, especially when you’re on the ice, becomes all the more important. Staying warm, keeping in touch with the weather, and making sure your energy level is high becomes essential. And if you’re just getting into ice fishing, attending an event where seasoned ice fishermen will be on hand to help you is a great place to learn.

But even with experienced people, how do you really know if ice is safe? First, you should always expect ice to be dangerous because you can’t judge conditions by appearance or thickness alone. Factors like water depth, size of the water body, currents, snow cover, age of ice, and local weather conditions impact ice strength. Yet, by remembering a few basic ice safety tips, you’ll stay safe and have some great fun at the same time. Here are a couple events coming up in February that you’re certain to enjoy, followed up with some ice safety tips that will help keep you safe:

February 8: Ashfield Rod and Gun Club Fishing Derby

This annual event, now in its 29th year, is free for kids and runs from 8 a.m. until noon. Registration is held at the Ashfield Lake House, which serves as headquarters for the day. Prizes are awarded for all attendees. A spaghetti dinner will follow the derby at Sanderson Academy. Kids eat free, and the cost for adults is $5. Tom Ricardi and his birds of prey presentation will follow the dinner. Joe Miraglia, Will Thayer, Bob Phillips, Jeff Prost, Todd Wolanick along with many other club members and volunteers will be helping on the ice during the event. Call Joe Miraglia for details at 413-628-4400, and make sure you dress for the weather.

February 29: Family Ice Fishing Festival, Chesterfield

This is another free ‘learn to ice fish’ event at Scout Pond, held at Tolgy Wood from 8:30 a.m. until noon. Bring your own equipment, or borrow theirs, though equipment and bait will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. This event is in cooperation with the Western Massachusetts Boy Scout Council and is open to the public. No pre-registration required. For more information contact Jim Lagacy at jim.lagacy@mass.gov or 508-389-6309. PLEASE NOTE: Less than 6 inches of safe ice, or rain or heavy snow will cancel this event.

Safety tips: New ice is stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly-formed ice may support one person on foot, while a foot or more of old ice may not. Make sure to check ice conditions frequently. Never travel on ice-bound rivers and streams, as currents make them unpredictable. Lakes and ponds can contain spring holes and currents that are deceptively dangerous.

Before heading out, let someone know where you are and when you expect to return. Carry a cell phone in case of emergency, and carry ice picks and ropes with you, just in case. If you should fall through ice, try NOT to panic. Cry out for help if there are people nearby. Don’t remove winter clothing as air trapped in your clothes can provide warmth and help you stay afloat. Turn in the direction you came from if you can, as ice previously walked on will be the safest. Place your hands and arms on an unbroken surface and kick your legs. If you have ice picks or something sharp, use it to pull yourself onto the ice while kicking. Once your torso is on firm ice, carefully roll toward thicker ice to distribute your weight. Once you’re safely out, get to shelter quickly, and get out of wet clothing as soon as possible. In remote areas, keep moving and try to stay warm. Start a campfire if you can. Otherwise, get to a car or house and seek medical attention as quickly as possible.

Preach-Reach-throw-Go: It can be difficult, but if someone else falls through the ice, try to remember that phrase.

Preach: Call 911 if you can. Shout to the victim to reassure them help is on the way.

Reach: If you can reach them safely from shore, extend a rope, tree branch, ladder, or anything you can find that will reach them.

Throw: If possible, toss them something, anything, that will float.

Go: If it’s just too dangerous for you to perform a rescue, call 911 or go for help. Untrained rescuers can easily become victims themselves.

Finally, the guidelines below can help you gauge if ice is safe. Use ice chisels, augers, or cordless drills to make a hole in the ice and determine its thickness and condition. Bring a tape measure to check ice thickness at regular intervals. Remember, white ice or snow ice is only about half as strong as clear ice. 

Ice Thickness per Safe Loads:

2 inches or less – STAY OFF

4 inches – Ice Fishing or on-foot activities

5 inches – Snowmobile or ATV

8-12 inches – Car or small pickup

12-15 inches – medium truck

By taking time to learn these, and other, safety guidelines, you’ll be better equipped to stay safe no matter what you’re doing on the winter tundra.

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and outdoorsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, consultant and active member of the New England Outdoor Writers Assoc. Joe is also a member of the Quaker Boy Game Calls, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Pro-Staff.

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