As winter continues on and as the coronavirus pandemic continues to make indoor gatherings unsafe, many people are looking for outdoor activities to pass the time.
For many Wisconsinites that means venturing out onto a frozen body of water for ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing or just a nice walk. But even bodies of water with thick layers of ice can pose dangers for recreational activities, so Wisconsin DNR Recreational Warden Jason Roberts explains how to stay safe when out on the ice.
“My recommendation is when it comes to rivers, when it comes to inlets and outlets of inland water bodies, inland lakes, those are areas you should stay away from. Whenever you have water moving underneath ice, it compromises the ice itself and you can have problems,” he says.
Roberts says fluctuation in temperature can also lead to unsafe ice conditions. If the temperature rises above freezing and then dips below freezing, the ice might appear to be completely safe but that refrozen ice can still be dangerous.
“As the ice gets darker, the snow starts to disappear, you see standing water — those are all indications that things can be a little dicey out there,” he explains.
But even on ice that has not refrozen or has no signs of being dangerous, accidents can still happen. That’s why Roberts recommends getting some basic safety equipment before heading out.
Simple shoe or boot spikes can help prevent slipping on the ice, which according the Roberts is the top ice-related injury for DNR wardens.
To help prevent drowning, he recommends a jacket with some form of flotation device because while the cold water will cause an initial shock to the body, keeping your head above water is the most important key to not drown.
“There is going to be that cold shock response, that’s normal. You’re going to lose your breath a bit but if you calm down and give yourself 30 seconds, for the most part you should be able to get yourself out if in fact you’re wearing a jacket that provides some flotation,” he says.
Bringing rescue sticks that help anyone in the water pull themselves out without needing to grab the wet and slippery ice is another important part of staying safe, Roberts says.
Finally, for anyone who is planning on sitting for an extended period of time on the lake, Roberts recommends a boat seat cushion, which is a U.S. Coast Guard approved floatation device which will both provide extra cushion for sitting and help in case you fall through the ice.
Roberts says if you see someone who has fallen into the water, don’t try and be a hero by jumping in after them, just get something for them to grab onto and help pull them out.