Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cold weather increases ice cover, but those venturing out still need to follow ice safety tips

MADISON –Recent cold weather is attracting increasing numbers of ice anglers, skaters and others to frozen lakes, but a state recreational safety specialist cautions that people need to remember a number of safety tips if they venture onto the ice.

Knowing when it is safe to step onto the ice, how to travel on ice and what to do should the ice break is as important as knowing the hot fishing bait or best areas to skate, according to a Department of Natural Resources recreational safety specialist.

“The best advice is to remember that there is no such thing as safe ice,” said Todd Schaller, DNR chief of recreation enforcement and education. “And although a lake or river is frozen, there’s no guarantee it can be safely traveled. Ice may look okay, but it’s difficult to tell by appearances alone. Ice thickness may vary or a thin ice cover may hide weak or honeycomb ice and water pockets.”

Schaller offers the following safety tips to anglers and others:

  • Local bait shops, resorts and anglers are often the best source of ice conditions. Conditions can vary from location to location and day to day. Avoid traveling on the ice unless you’re familiar with the conditions.
  • Check ice thickness with an ice spud or auger starting from a few feet from shore and every 10 to 20 feet as one goes towards the middle of the waterway.
  • Springs, lake inlets and outlets, and channels can alter ice thickness.
  • Whether alone or with a friend, carry safety gear such as a length of rope, ice grippers and a personal floatation device. Tools that can assist yourself or others if an ice break occurs.
  • Proper clothing can increase chances of survival should a person break through the ice. A snowmobile type suit -- if it is zipped -- can and will trap air and slow the body’s heat loss. Once filled with water, however, insulated suits become very heavy and will hinder rescue. Newer model snowmobile suits have flotation material built in and anyone traversing ice should consider purchasing one of these suits. On early ice it is advised to wear a personal flotation device.
  • You should never venture onto rivers, where currents may cause thin ice conditions that aren’t visible due to erosion of the ice from below.
  • Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible. Travel in a vehicle, especially early or late in the season, can be very dangerous.
  • If you do take a vehicle on the ice be prepared to leave the vehicle in a hurry. Unbuckle the seatbelt, keep doors unlocked, and have a plan of action in mind if the vehicle breaks through the ice.
  • When using a gas or liquid heater to warm an ice shack or tent make sure it is properly ventilated with at least two openings, one at the top and one at the bottom of the structure. Any flame eats oxygen so proper ventilation is required.

“At DNR, we want you to be safe enjoying the outdoors. Common sense is the greatest ally in preventing ice related accidents,” Schaller said. “That includes checking ice conditions and preparing oneself before venturing out. One rule of thumb remains the same. Treat all ice as unsafe and use caution when venturing onto our frozen lakes and rivers.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Todd Schaller - (608) 267-2774

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