By Mary Drier
MICHIGAN — When it comes right down to it, “there is no such thing as safe ice,” according to the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“The weather is constantly changing from one day to the next,” said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Edward Hines with the Saginaw River Station. “By the end of this week, it’s supposed to be in the 40s.”
“I would never go out on it if it wasn’t related to doing so for my job here.”
With winter comes cold weather-related activities like ice fishing, snowmobiling and skiing.
“All ice has the propensity to be dangerous,” said Lt. Steven Burton of the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. “Obviously, during some times of the year, some ice is much better than other ice, but no ice is ever completely safe ice.”
Ice doesn’t form with uniform thickness on any body of water so there can always be thin spots. Also, ice formed by melted and re-frozen snow will appear milky so it is very porous and weak, and any ice covered by snow should always be presumed unsafe.
Anyone who ventures out onto the ice is advised to keep the following precautions in mind: check with local sources of information – such as the bait shop or corner store – about ice conditions before venturing out. Travel in pairs whenever possible and make sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return. Carry a spud to test the quality of the ice as you move further onto the ice. Avoid inlets and outlets, areas with natural springs or currents, and places were structures – docks, pilings, dead trees or other vegetation – extend through the surface of the ice, and pay attention to wind direction – especially on large bodies of water.
“For those who go out on the ice, I would recommend a dry suit like what we wear, but they are expensive,” noted Hines.
For those who cannot afford a dry suit, it is recommended to wear a personal flotation device (PFD).
“It’s important to stress that just because water is frozen doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carry a PFD. It’s not the law but it’s good common sense,” said Burton. “A personal flotation device like a floatable boat cushion or life jacket may not help you get out of the water, but will keep you floating until someone responds to pull you out.”
It is also recommended to carry personal safety devices such as spikes and rope to help you get out of the water should the ice break.
“Screwdrivers and ice awls will dig into the ice to help you pull yourself out if you break through,” said Hines.
Also, carrying a communication device is important; but while cellular phones are helpful in an emergency, they usually won’t work if they get wet.
“Carry a hand-held, portable radio. They will work. We monitor channel 16,” said Hines noting a compass is also good to carry if a blizzard comes up or if a person has to be out on the ice after dark.
“When going out, tell someone where you will be going out of, and when you will return, and stick to that. That way they know when you are over due, and we know where to start searching.”
Also, the DNR offers the following tips in the event that someone witnesses a person breaking through the ice: call 9-1-1 immediately, but do not run out to the victim. If help is not immediately available, approach cautiously by lying on the ice to distribute your weight and attempt to reach the victim with a rope, pole or ladder.
Take exposure victims to the hospital for treatment.
Mary Drier is a staff writer for the Tuscola County Advertiser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.