What you need to know if you fall through the ice

Water surrounded by iceAcross Canada, the cold weather is in full swing with winter storms and chilly temperatures already making an impact. For a lot of us, it means it is time to layer up and enjoy the season – but sadly it is also the time of the year where we hear about emergencies and tragedies that are happening out on the ice.

Even when the weather is bitterly cold, it doesn’t necessarily mean that ice is strong enough to be safe. The thickness of ice is the best way to determine if it is safe enough:
  • At least 15cm is considered safe for walking or skating alone
  • At least 20cm is considered safe for skating or playing games
  • At least 25cm is considered safe for snowmobiles
Remember, it is a good rule to always check local reports before you head out onto the ice, and avoid going out on ice at night. Ice thickness can change as quickly as the weather can and a lot of factors can impact it, so always check – even if the ice was safe the day before.

Even when you do everything right, emergencies on the ice can happen. Here is what to do:
If you are out on the ice alone and in trouble, here is what to do:
  1. Call out for help
  2. Resist the urge to climb back where you fell in – the ice is weak there
  3. Use the air trapped in your clothing to get into a floating position on your stomach
  4. Reach forward onto the broken ice without pushing down – kick your legs and push your torso onto the ice flat
  5. Once 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 weight. Do not stand up!
  6. Look for shore and make sure you are heading in the right direction
If you are with others on the ice and they are in trouble:

A rescue on the iceRescuing another person from the ice can be dangerous. The safest way to perform a rescue is from shore, if at all possible avoid going out on the ice. Here is what to do:
  1. Call for help. Determine if you can quickly get help from trained professionals like police, fire fighters, or bystanders
  2. If you can reach the person using a long pole or branch from shore, lie down and extend the pole to the person in trouble
  3. If you need to go out onto the ice, wear a lifejacket or personal floatation device and carry a pole or branch to test the ice in front of you. Bring something for the person in trouble to reach out and grab, like a pole, weighted rope or line
  4. When you reach the break in the ice, lie down to distribute your weight and slowly crawl towards them without getting closer to the weak ice than necessary
  5. Remain low, extend or throw your rescue device
  6. Have the person kick while you pull them out
  7. Help the person to a safe place on shore, or where you are sure the ice is thick enough. Call for help
It is highly likely someone who has fallen through the ice could experience a cold-related emergency – that means when body temperature drops dangerously. Be sure to change out of wet clothing as soon as possible. You can learn more about first aid for cold-related emergencies on our website.

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