Ice Safety

Here in New England ice and cold water safety is an important issue each winter when too many residents are injured from exposure to cold water. Skaters and ice fishermen fall through the ice; boaters and canoeists overturn their crafts. Hikers and explorers sometimes lose their way and have to camp out overnight in harsh weather conditions. Unleashed pets run onto the ice and people chase after them. 

Last March, two ice fishermen fell through the ice on the Neponset River in Foxborough. A woman extended a large tree branch to them but also fell into the icy water. Firefighters used a sled to rescue the victims.

Cold Water Dangers

  • Cold water is any water below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cold water robs the body of heat 25 to 30 times faster than air.
  • Safety experts estimate that half of all drowning victims die from the fatal effects of hypothermia, not from water in the lungs.

What to Do If Someone Falls Through Ice

  • Reach-Throw-Row. If a companion falls through the ice and you are unable to reach that person from shore, throw them something (rope, jumper cables, tree branch, etc.). If this does not work, go for help before you also become a victim. Get medical assistance for the victim immediately.
  • If you fall in, try not to panic. Turn toward the direction you came from. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface, working forward by kicking your feet. Once out, remain lying on the ice (do not stand) and roll away from the hole. Crawl back to your tracks, keeping your weight distributed until you return to solid ice.

Cold Emergencies: What Hypothermia Is

Hypothermia is severe lowering of the body's internal temperature. This occurs when the body loses more heat that it can produce, which prevents the heart and lungs from functioning properly. Hypothermia is caused when the body is exposed to cold, chilling winds or by getting wet. Hypothermia can happen on land or in water and progresses quickly.

Symptoms of Hypothermia

  • Absentmindedness or confusion
  • Difficulty speaking or slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination and weakness
  • Semi-consciousness or unconsciousness
  • Uncontrollable shivering

To Prevent Hypothermia

  • Always wear a personal floatation device (PFD) when around cold water
  • Carry matches in a waterproof container
  • Keep as dry as possible
  • Protect your head and hands from the elements by wearing winter hats and gloves/mittens
  • Wear layers of warm clothing

How to Help Someone with Hypothermia

  • Build a fire to warm the victim
  • Call for medical help immediately
  • Give the victim warm fluids to drink (no alcohol or caffeinated drinks)
  • If the situation is safe for you to do so, remove the person from the cold water or cold air
  • Keep the victim as dry as possible
  • Remove wet clothing
  • Seat the victim in a warm shower or warm bath with the arms and legs of the victim out of the water. This allows the core of the body to warm first
  • Wrap the victim in blankets or in a sleeping bag

How Thick Is Safe Ice

Ice on moving water in rivers, streams and brooks are never safe. The thickness of ice on ponds and lakes depends upon water currents or springs, depth and natural objects such as tree stumps or rocks. Daily changes in temperature cause the ice to expand and contract, which affects its strength. Because of these factors, no one can declare the ice to be absolutely safe.

Ice Safety Tips 

  • Never go onto the ice alone. A friend may be able to rescue you or go for help if you fall through the ice.
  • Always keep your pets on a leash. If a pet falls through the ice do not attempt to rescue your pet, go for help.
  • New ice is usually stronger than old ice. As the ice ages, the bond between the crystals decays, making it weaker, even if melting has not occurred.
  • Beware of ice covered with snow. Snow can insulate ice and keep it strong, but can also insulate it to keep it from freezing. Snow can also hide cracks, weak, or open ice.
  • Slush is a danger sign, indicating that ice is no longer freezing from the bottom and can be weak or deteriorating.
  • Ice formed over flowing water (rivers or lakes containing a large number of springs) is generally 15% weaker.
  • Ice seldom freezes or thaws at a uniform rate. It can be one foot thick in one spot and be only one inch thick 10 feet away.