‘Ice Thickness Guide’: Facts on frozen lakes & what to do in cold water

(WUTR/WFXV/WPNY) — Whether it be for ice fishing, ice skating, or just out of curiosity, venturing out on a frozen lake or body of water can quickly become a dangerous activity.

Knowing the thickness of that top layer of ice is crucial to determining whether or not a lake is safe to venture out on. 

A minimum thickness of 4-5 inches is required to safely walk on and/or go ice fishing, 5-6 inches for a snowmobile, and anywhere from 8-15 inches for a vehicle depending on its size. 

If you are not able to measure the ice thickness or are unsure, avoid it altogether to prevent the risk of falling through into the cold water. Coldwater can drain body heat up to 4 times faster than cold air and when your body hits cold water, it can undergo a “cold shock”, which can cause dramatic changes in breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.

The sudden gasp and rapid breathing alone create a greater risk of drowning even for confident swimmers in calm waters. Roughly 20 percent of those who fall in cold water die in the first minute of immersion due to cold water shock.

The following guidelines and images from the U.S. Coast Guard will increase your chance for survival:

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Minimize time in the water. Get out as soon as possible safely. 
  • If possible, utilize any floating objects to get out of the water.
  • Keep as much of your body out of the water as possible.
  1. Evaluate your options.
  • If you can swim to safety, stay calm and do so.
  • If you cannot swim to safety, conserve energy and heat and await rescue.
  1. If you cannot get to safety, assume the Heat Escape Lessening Position (H.E.L.P.) position. This protects the critical body areas and slows down the loss of heat. H.E.L.P position means:
  • Draw your knees to your chin and keep your legs together.
  • Press both arms against your side and keep your head out of the water.
H.E.L.P. Position

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