How to stay safe outside on the ice

DNR offers tips for winter enthusiasts

When on or near ice, always use extreme caution because there is no reliable way to test ice thickness. For more safety tips, including what to do if you fall through the ice, go to Michigan.gov/IceSafety.

When on or near ice, always use extreme caution because there is no reliable way to test ice thickness. For more safety tips, including what to do if you fall through the ice, go to Michigan.gov/IceSafety.

Courtesy of the Michigan DNR

WEST CENTRAL MICHIGAN —Over the river and through the hill, snowmobilers are itching to go … not to mention skiers, snowshoers and ice fishers.

As the days grow colder and the snow grows deeper, winter enthusiasts will be venturing out. And the Michigan Department of Natural Resources encourages those who play out in Michigan’s winter wonderland to be safe.

"People often get caught up in the excitement of the moment and overlook general winter safety," Lt. Tom Wanless, with the DNR Law Enforcement Division's Recreational Safety, Enforcement and Safety Section, said in a news release. "We want to send out a beginning-of-the-season reminder to please keep safety in mind this winter. Dress for the weather, check the forecast before you go out and, if you're snowmobiling, please ride sober and at a safe speed."

To prepare for any winter activity, the DNR suggests the following tips:

  • Wear light layers that can easily be added or removed. It is possible to overheat even during the winter.
  • Carry the appropriate equipment for your activity, such as a flashlight, rope, ice picks or ice claws.
  • Have spare equipment available in case something breaks.
  • Stay hydrated and fueled. Bring water and snacks.
  • Bring a buddy.
  • Inform others about where you will be and how long you plan to be gone. Schedule check-in times.
  • Carry a two-way communication device that receives service in remote areas.
  • Be aware of your health. If you're not feeling well, don't go out.

SNOWMOBILE SAFETY

Before hopping on your snowmobile, the Michigan DNR reminds riders to register their sleds with the Secretary of State and purchase a trail permit, a requirement unless you stay on private property. Trail permits run from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 and allows riders to go on state-designated trails, including the White Pine and Pere Marquette trails, between Dec. 1 and March 31.

In addition, riders ages 12-16 must take an approved safety course and obtain a safety certificate. (The DNR recommends a safety class for all riders, but it’s only required for ages 12-16). An online course may be found at www.snowmobile-ed.com/michigan.

General safety tips for all riders include:

  • Slow Down: Speed is a contributing factor in nearly all fatal accidents.
  • Always keep your machine in top mechanical condition.
  • Don't drink: Alcohol impairs judgment and slows reaction time.
  • Always wear insulated boots and protective clothing, including a helmet, gloves and eye protection.
  • Check the weather conditions before you depart.
  • Never ride alone.
  • When possible, avoid crossing frozen bodies of water. Never operate in a single file when crossing frozen bodies of water.
  • Always be alert to avoid fences and low-strung wires.
  • Always look for depressions in the snow.
  • Always keep headlights and taillights on.
  • When approaching an intersection, come to a complete stop, raise off the seat and look both ways for traffic.

For more information about snowmobiling, visit Michigan.gov/Snowmobiling. For more information about riding on the White Pine and Pere Marquette trails, visit the Pere Marquette Snowmobile Club’s website at www.pmscriders.org or its Facebook page at  www.facebook.com/peremarquettesnowmobileclub. 

ICE FISHING

For anglers heading onto the ice to fish, the DNR suggests checking with local bait shops to find out where the ice is thick enough and check the latest weekly fishing report at at Michigan.gov/fishing. In addition:

  • Test ice thickness and quality using a spud, needle bar or auger.
  • Note the color of the ice: The strongest ice will be clear with bluish tint. Weak ice is formed by melted and refrozen snow and will appear milky.
  • Stay off ice with slush on top: Slush ice is only half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice is not freezing from the bottom.
  • Check the weather: A sudden cold front with low temperatures can create cracks within a half-day. A warm spell may take several days to weaken ice and cause the ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night.
  • Remember: Ice weakens with age.
  • Be extra cautious if there’s ice on the lake but water around the shoreline.
  • Remember: Stronger the current on the lake, the more likely the ice will give to open water.
  • Avoid areas of ice with protruding debris like logs or brush.
  • Keep an eye out for dock bubblers or deicers as the ice near these mechanisms will be unsafe. Always check the ice and be aware of your surroundings.

Once you have determined if the ice is thick enough to be safe, you’ll need the proper tools. The DNR suggests a spud, auger, ice picks or claws, hook-and-line rod and reel, skimmer, tip-ups and a two-way communication device that receives a signal. Dress in layers with extra gloves in case one pair gets wet, waterproof boots with ice cleats, and of course, a life jacket.

Anglers must also have a valid fishing license. For more information, visit Michigan.gov/fishing.

IF THE ICE BREAKS

Even with careful planning, there is always a chance the ice might break. According to the DNR, there is no reliable “inch-thickness” to determine if the ice is safe. If that should happen, the DNR offers these tips.

  • Remain calm
  • Don't remove winter clothing. Heavy clothes won't drag you down, but instead provide warmth.
  • Turn in the water toward the direction you came from, this is most likely the strongest ice.
  • If you have ice picks, dig the points of the picks into the ice while vigorously kicking your feet to pull yourself onto the surface
  • by sliding forward on the ice.
  • Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.
  • Get to shelter and remove your wet clothing, redressing in warm, dry clothing and consume warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages as soon as you can.
  • Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering or any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia, which is a life-threatening condition.

For more ice safety tips, visit Michigan.gov/IceSafety.