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Winter Recreation Safety

Winter activity safety is the most important issue to keep in mind, especially around ice. When outside, please remember the following safety tips:

Dress for the Cold

Come prepared, be aware and know when to go indoors.

  • Dress warmly in layers: Start with insulating fabrics and use a final layer of protective fabrics.
    • Insulating fabrics trap the body’s heat. Start with thin layers of polypropylene close to the skin. Add fabrics that retain heat even when wet such as wool or synthetic fleece.
    • Avoid 100 percent cotton garments, as they are most effective at drawing heat away from the body.
    • Protective fabrics prevent the elements from cooling the insulating layers. Parkas, rain suits, paddling gear and jackets made of nylon, Gore-tex and some of the new microfibers are ideal.
  • Keep your head, neck and hands covered, and wear waterproof boots.

Additional Recommendations

  • If venturing out on ice, wear a life vest under your winter gear or a new flotation snowmobile suit. Do NOT wear a flotation device when traveling across ice in an enclosed vehicle!
  • Drink water to prevent dehydration, and avoid alcoholic beverages.
  • Be alert for symptoms of hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering, drowsiness, slow or slurred speech, memory lapses, or clumsiness.
  • Don’t “overdrive” your snowmobile’s headlight. Stopping on ice at even 30 miles per hour can take a much longer distance than your headlight shines.

Ice Safety

There is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice! Many factors affect the strength of ice besides thickness.

  • Thawing and refreezing can weaken ice.
  • Pockets of air can form under the ice on lakes where the water levels are raised and lowered by flood control.
  • Ice seldom freezes uniformly.
  • The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process.
  • Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous.
  • Ice conditions can change within a few feet because of currents or proximity to shore.
  • Schools of fish moving warm water up can open holes in the ice.

Ice Thickness

Here are some guidelines for determining if the ice is safe:

  • Do not venture out onto the ice unless you test the thickness.
  • Ice near shore tends to be weaker due to expansion and warming.
    • 4 inches of new clear ice is the minimum thickness for travel on foot.
    • 5 inches of new clear ice is the minimum thickness for snowmobiles and ATVs.
    • 8 - 12 inches of new clear ice is the minimum thickness for cars or small trucks.
  • Check with a local resort or bait shop for known thin ice areas.
  • Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible.

A minimum of five inches of ice is recommended for safe enjoyment of ice skating, ice fishing, ice boating and snowmobiling on state park lakes. However, even if the ice is several inches thick, ice-covered water is never completely safe.

Safe Practices

Never venture onto the ice alone and follow these ice safety practices:

  • Let someone know when you will be on the ice and when you will return.
  • The ODNR Division of Wildlife recommends contacting a licensed ice guide if you plan to ice fish.
  • Wear a life jacket or float coat.
  • Carry two screwdrivers, ice picks, or large nails to help gain a firm grip, should you have to pull yourself out of the water.
  • Avoid areas of thin ice or open water.

Be Aware and Prepared

Pay close attention when boating or walking on ice. Cold water will cool a body 25 times faster than cold air of the same temperature.

If you feel the ice begin to crack beneath you, follow these steps:

  1. Do not run.
  2. Lie on your stomach and spread your arms and legs (like an airplane).
  3. Stretch your arms over your head and bring them together.
  4. Roll away from the crack. Do not bend your knees or elbows.

If someone has fallen through the ice:

  1. Do not go onto the ice-if it broke once, it will break again.
  2. Call for help.
  3. Tell the victim to hold their hands close to their face and breathe into their hands.
  4. Toss them something that floats. (Try a cooler or empty plastic bottle)
  5. Encourage them to use car keys, a pen, or other objects in their pocket to begin to pull themselves onto the ice.

If the victim is close enough to shore, you can help pull them in:

  1. Kneel or lie face down on solid ground.
  2. Throw or extend whatever you can find, such as jumper cables or skis, or push a boat ahead of you.

If YOU fall through the ice:

  1. Try not to panic.
  2. Do not remove your winter clothing. Heavy clothes will not drag you down. They trap air to provide warmth and flotation.
  3. Turn toward the direction you came. That is probably the strongest ice.
  4. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface.
  5. Kick your feet and dig in your ice picks to work your way back onto the solid ice.
  6. Lie flat on the ice and roll away from the hole. This will help distribute your weight.
  7. Get to a warm, dry, sheltered area. Change into dry clothing and drink a warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverage.

Stages of Cold Water Immersion and Hypothermia

Stage 1: Cold Shock/Sudden Disappearance
This response begins immediately upon immersion and will peak within the first 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Breathing and circulation are affected. Involuntary gasping, rapid breathing, dizziness and confusion start immediately, causing water inhalation and possibly drowning. A sudden rise in heart rate and blood pressure also occur, possibly resulting in stroke or heart attack.

Stage 2: Swim Failure
A person must attempt to self-rescue, stay afloat or swim to safety within the next 30 minutes. Nerves and muscles in the arms and legs will cool quickly. Strength of handgrip and movement speed will drop 60 percent to 80 percent.

Stage 3: Hypothermia
After the skin, arms and legs have cooled to the water temperature, cooling of the inner organs of the body’s core begins. This is called hypothermia. It develops after 30 minutes if cooling is not stopped. The symptoms follow a predictable progression:

  • Shivering
  • Skin color becomes flushed initially, but later may turn blue
  • Slurred speech
  • Clumsiness and poor coordination
  • Withdrawn and apathetic
  • Heart rate and blood flow slow down
  • Limbs become stiff as muscles get rigid
  • Mental confusion
  • Shivering ceases
  • Unconsciousness
  • Heart failure may occur, but usually drowning occurs first

Stage 4: Rescue and Post Immersion Responses
Survivors being removed from the water face significant physiological changes in blood volume and distribution. Rescue method and proper treatment of the victim are crucial. Handle victims gently and minimize movement. Wrap the person in blankets to prevent further heat loss and transport him or her to the nearest medical facility in a warm vehicle.