It’s that time of the year again when people are eager to head to ponds, lakes and rivers for skating, ice fishing and snowmobiling.
However, venturing out on the ice can sometimes be more than a slippery journey. Immersion deaths involving ice occur every year across Canada.
Canadian Red Cross’ ongoing surveillance of unintentional water-related fatalities tracked 398 snowmobile-related deaths over a period of 20 years and found that those deaths were largely preventable.
According to the Canadian Red Cross, ice colour can help indicate the strength of ice – clear blue ice is strongest; white opaque or snow ice is half as strong as blue ice; and grey ice is not safe.
However, ice thickness is the best way to measure safety. Ice should be at least 15 cm (6 inches) for small groups to skate or walk; 20 cm (8 inches) for large groups such as skating parties; 25 cm (10 inches) for snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles; and 40 cm (16 inches) for a vehicle.
Ice thickness can change as quickly as the weather does, so always be sure to check, even if ice was safe the day before.
When heading to the ice, the Canadian Red Cross recommends bringing emergency equipment with you including a cell phone, a whistle, a first aid kit, an ice pick and a rope.
If you fall through ice and you’re by yourself, resist the immediate urge to climb back out where you fell in as the ice is weak in this area. Use the air trapped in your clothing to get into a floating position on your stomach and reach forward onto the broken ice without pushing down then kick your legs to push your torso on the ice.
When you are back on the ice, crawl on your stomach or roll away from the open area with your arms and legs spread out as far as possible to evenly distribute your body weight. And most important, do not stand up near the broken ice.
Rescuing another person who has fallen through the ice can also be dangerous. First call for help from trained professionals such as police, fire fighters or paramedics.
If you have to go on to the ice, wear a lifejacket and carry a long pole or branch to test the ice in front of you. Bring something to reach or throw to the person like a pole or a tree branch.
When near the break in the ice, lie down to distribute your weight and slowly crawl toward the hole and have the person kick while you pull them out. For more ice safety tips go to www.redcross.ca