With a deadly open-water season nearly in the rearview mirror, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reminds everyone that lakes and ponds throughout the state have started to freeze – and that where ice hasn’t formed, the water is dangerously cold. It’s up to all people to choose to stay safe around the water or ice, according to the DNR.
Where there is ice, its thickness this time of year is highly variable and subject to the whims of Mother Nature. And where ice hasn’t formed – or where it freezes at night and opens during the day – the water temperature is so low that an unexpected fall in can be deadly.
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, it’s vital that parents talk with their kids about staying safe. With a couple days off from school, it’s natural for kids to want to be outside, and water and ice tends to be a natural draw.
“There’s nothing worse than when a time of year that should be festive turns tragic,” said Lt. Adam Block, boating law administrator for the DNR Enforcement Division. “Teaching your kids to be vigilant around the water this time of year – and doing the same yourself – isn’t just a good idea. It’s an absolute necessity.”
Anglers and others who recreate on the ice should stay on shore until there’s at least 4 inches of new, clear ice. Anytime people are on the ice, they should check its thickness every 150 feet. Block urges people to check ice thickness for themselves rather than deciding to walk on the ice based on what they’ve heard or read.
Each year, unexpected falls into cold water lead to serious injury and death.
Minnesota’s ice fatality summary by winter season (November through April) shows an average of three deaths per season for the past five winters. Most of the individuals who died went through the ice on a snowmobile or ATV. The most recent ice-related fatality in Itasca County was in 2017 when a 52 year-old individual on an ATV went through the ice on Rice Lake.
Wearing a life jacket is the best way to avert tragedy, since the initial shock of falling into cold water can incapacitate even strong swimmers. Carrying a good set of ice picks can help a person get out if they fall through the ice, and a cell phone, whistle or other communications device makes it more likely they will be able to call for help.
General ice safety guidelines
No ice can ever be considered “safe ice,” but following these guidelines can help minimize the risk:
Always wear a life jacket or float coat on the ice (except when in a vehicle).
Carry ice picks, rope, an ice chisel and tape measure.
Check ice thickness at regular intervals; conditions can change quickly.
Bring a cell phone or personal locator beacon.
Don’t go out alone; let someone know about trip plans and expected return time.
Before heading out, inquire about conditions and known hazards with local experts.
The minimum ice thickness guidelines for new, clear ice are:
4 inches for ice fishing or other activities on foot.
5-7 inches for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle.
8-12 inches for a car or small pickup.
12-15 inches for a medium truck.
Double these minimums for white or snow-covered ice.
For more information, visit the ice safety page and the cold water danger page at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/.