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You are always on ‘thin ice’

January 16, 2012
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01/17/12 With “Old Man Winter” finally upon us, Indiana Conservation Officers are again advising citizens of the potential hazards of being on any frozen body of water. For the thousands of Hoosiers who enjoy embracing Mother Nature during the winter months, the upcoming cold weather may finally offer us a chance to “walk on water”. Many Hoosiers wait patiently every year for that “first ice”, so that they can finally try out their new ice fishing jigs or that new pair of ice skates that Santa Claus brought them.

Even though the ice may now be forming on our waters, Hoosiers need to remember several key safety rules. The first and most important is that no ice is 100% safe. The bare minimum that anyone should walk out on is four inches of new, clear ice. If you plan on driving your ORV or snowmobile, five inches of ice is needed. Anything less and you risk falling through. The strength of the ice is determined by its age, thickness, temperature in which it was formed, the depth of water in which it was formed, natural springs, plus many other variables. Because of this, ice seldom freezes uniformly. Ice conditions can change daily or even hourly depending on the ambient temperature, precipitation, wind speed and direction, and the amount of sunshine. With all of these possible combinations it is no wonder that within a small 10 foot area, ice thicknesses can range from one inch to twelve inches. Schools of fish and even flocks of waterfowl can affect the thickness of ice. No wonder Indiana Conservation Officer say, “If you don’t know, Don’t Go.”

So what happens if you do fall through the ice? For starters, you should always have a partner. You and your partner should also have a PFD, or personal flotation device, and a set of ice picks. If you are wearing this “life jacket”, it will not only keep you floating above the water; it will help you maintain body heat until rescue personnel can arrive. If you aren’t wearing a PFD  or don’t have ice picks when you fall through the ice, your best option is to place both arms on top of the ice and pull yourself up while you kick with your legs. Hopefully this will place you on top of the ice where you can roll or crawl to ice of a safe thickness. It is much easier said than done, but if you do find yourself in icy waters, Do Not Panic. Even though cold water can rob you of body heat 32 times faster than the air, you will still be able to survive long enough for a rescue to be performed if you remain calm.

What about if you see someone fall through the ice? Most people think the heroic thing to do is to jump in after the victim. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. First and foremost, you need to call 911 and advise them of the situation. Next, remember the rescue sequence “Reach, Throw, Row, Go”. Try and find something that can “Reach” the victim that doesn’t place you in any danger. If the victim is too far away to reach, you can “Throw” the victim anything that floats. This could be a small cooler or even a basketball. Anything that the victim can hold onto until help arrives. If those haven’t worked, you can take a small boat, “Row”, with a push pole or paddle and scoot the boat across the unsafe ice until you reach the victim. The last and most dangerous recue, the “Go”, is to actually jump into the water yourself. This should only be done by those who have been properly trained and who are wearing a PFD.

Hopefully with a little common sense and proper preparation, Hoosier Outdoorsman will remain warm and dry this winter season. Indiana Conservation Officers say the best rule of thumb is for everyone to believe they are “walking on thin ice”. Anyone wishing to speak with their local officer about this or any other concerns can contact North Region Enforcement at (765) 473-9722 between the hours of 7:00 AM and 12:00 PM seven days a week.

Conservation Officers want citizens to put safety first. Here are a few tips to remember when considering standing on or walking on a frozen lake or pond:

  1. No ice is safe ice.
  2. At least 4 inches of ice is recommended for safe ice fishing; 5 inches for snowmobiling.
  3. If you don’t know….don’t go.
  4. Wear lifejackets or flotation coats.
  5. Carry ice hooks and rope gear.

Some bodies of water will appear to be frozen solid but actually can have thin ice in several unsuspecting areas. Flowing water, such as rivers and streams, should be avoided when covered by a layer of ice. Water that is surrounded by sand many times freezes with inconsistencies. Ice in southern Indiana is particularly inconsistent.

Wind, waterfowl and beavers can also keep areas of ice thin.

Indiana Conservation Officers say the best rule of thumb is for everyone to believe they are “walking on thin ice.”

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