kid in winter clothes ice fishing at a frozen lake

‘Tis the season to enjoy winter activities, and a favourite amongst outdoor adventurers are ice-related activities such as snowmobiling, hiking, or skating. However, ice, just like unfrozen water, can be dangerous if you don’t pay attention and stay safe. According to Lifesaving Society, “Approximately 35% of drownings in Canada occur from October to April when most people have no intention of going into the water. Snowmobiling and ice accidents account for most of these incidents”

The team at DSH has compiled a guide with tips and facts to keep you safe when on or around icy surfaces.


About Ice Thickness & Ice Strength


Ice thickness safety chart

One of the main factors to determine whether it’s safe or not to go on the ice is its thickness. Use a tape measurer or any other ice-thickness measuring device (there are a lot of options in the market). Since currents, temperature, depth, and other elements can affect ice thickness, always measure in different spots. 

If there are less than 7cm of ice, stay off it, it is unsafe. Activities such as skating, ice fishing and hiking require a minimum of 10cm of ice. For small motorized vehicles such as snowmobiles, light ATVs or large groups of people 12cm of ice is the minimum recommendation. Cars and light trucks need at least 20-30 cm of ice to be safe. Any other larger vehicle such as medium trucks or SUVs needs a minimum of 30-38 cm.

Ice colour is another fact that can help you determine the strength of the ice. The strongest ice is clear blue. As it starts to turn white and opaque it will lose its strength since there’s a presence of snow or air. When it turns grey it has become completely unsafe since this colour indicates the presence of water.  

Be mindful, the above recommendations are guidelines only and no ice is without risk. There are other local factors that can affect ice thickness and strength, and every body of water is different. Always follow signs, and local authority’s recommendations, and if possible, only use designated ice surfaces. Beware, ice conditions can rapidly change. 


Ice Safety Tips

Some important tips for you to consider when planning a day of ice fun:

  • Avoid travelling on ice after dark or when it’s snowing. Low visibility can make surface variations harder to spot. 
  • Never do ice-related activities by yourself. As with swimming, always have a buddy join you. 
  • Due to currents and moving water, you should stay off frozen rivers. Ice thickness can have unexpected changes. 
  • Have a safety kit with you at all times. The kit should include a rope, a first aid kit, a fire starter kit, a pocket knife, a whistle, a compass, and extra batteries for your phone. 
  • Don’t drink alcohol, it reduces your coordination and reflexes. 
  • Like swimming, children should ALWAY be supervised when playing on or near ice. The same principle of Water Watchers applies to ice. No distractions, and full adult focus. Ideally, they should always be at arm’s reach and wearing a PFD or thermal protection buoyant suit. 
  • Adults should also wear a lifejacket or PFD, this will help them stay afloat in case they fall through the ice. 
  • Avoid unknown ice surfaces and paths. 
  • Come Spring, avoid ice surfaces even if they look strong and have the right thickness. Because of temperature changes, thawing and refreezing, the ice is no longer safe.  

Falling Through Ice


When Some Else Falls Through

The safest way to rescue someone that has fallen through ice is from the shore. Try reaching them with a pole, branch or rope and call for help from bystanders or, if possible, 911. 

Don’t stand near the break area, the ideal position is to lie down, distribute your weight and crawl toward the edge to throw the emergency rescue device and pull them out to a thick section of the ice.


When You Fall Through

Stay calm and don’t panic. The air trapped in your clothes will help you stay buoyant for some time. Call for help and swim towards the edge of the broken ice. Use your arms and legs to push yourself up and once on top, don’t stand up right away, roll yourself to solid ice. 


Once Out of the Ice

Once out of the water and on a solid surface, seek immediate medical attention. Find a warm location where you can get out of all your wet clothes, and wrap yourself in the warmest blanket at hand. Your main goal is to increase your body temperature Only drink small quantities of room-temperature liquids.


Now that you know the main safety tips about ice safety, have fun and enjoy the outdoors!