THIN ICE OR NOT?
Fishing or skating on the frozen surface of a pond is part of winter. Knowing how to do so safely can be a matter of life or death. Always inspect the ice before going out onto it. Look for signs that the ice is unsafe, is the ice sloping down from the bank due to the water level dropping, are there wet areas on the snow or ice caused from the water coming up through the cracks? The condition, strength, and thickness of ice can quickly change from day to day depending on temperature, snow, rain, wind, wave action, natural springs, water depth, sunshine, and obstacles protruding through the ice. Snow covered ice can either insulate ice and keep it strong or keep it from freezing. Snow can also cover up cracks and weakened areas of the ice. Ice doesn’t form evenly and can range from 12 inches to 1 inch thick within a 10 foot area. New ice is usually stronger than old ice. As ice gets older the crystal bond decays making it weaker. Light winds speed up the formation of ice, making for weaker ice, and stronger winds force water from beneath the ice and can weaken the edges of the ice. We can see by our recent high winds and the fact that Church Creek is still flowing has cause the ice to be very thin at the west end of the pond. There is an old fishermen saying “Thick and blue, tried and true; thin and crispy, way to risky.”
There are four things to consider when planning on going out on the ice should you break through and fall into the water; your physical condition, your clothing, your equipment, and your procedures. Your physical condition-would you be able to save yourself? Being able to swim and stay afloat can reduce the chance of panic and help save your life. Your clothing-would you be able to swim and stay afloat? Wear loose and layered clothing that would protect you from the cold and also allow mobility for swimming. Hip boots or waders should not be worn as they can fill with water adding weight. Your equipment-would you be able to pull yourself out? Wear a vest or jacket that can either be inflated or is buoyant. Have ice claws that are threaded through your jacket sleeves like children’s mittens that can be immediately available and used to pull yourself out of the water and onto the ice. Bring a rope that floats so that others might be able to grab it and pull you out. Your procedures-use the buddy system and let someone know where you will be and when you will be returning when planning to go out on the ice.
It is normal to hear the ice cracking under your feet; however, there are 2 types of cracks: wet cracks and dry cracks. There is no need to be concerned about the dry cracks, this is a result of the ice expanding on the upper layers due to increasing buildup of ice underneath and is a sign that the ice is getting stronger. Wet cracks are a sign of danger; this indicates that the crack goes all the way through the ice and to the water level.
Below is a guideline table for ice thickness and safe activities:
Inches - Activity - Maximum Weight:
0-3 No Activities – Stay Off
4-5 Skating or Fishing 250 lbs
6-7 Snowmobile or ATV 1,100 lbs
8-11 Light Truck or Car 3,527 lbs
12-14 Medium Truck 7,937 lbs