Ice Safety: Know when it’s safe to play

By Kayleigh Montgomery, Canadian Red Cross Digital Volunteer

The winter season brings many outdoor group and individual activities. Natural water bodies freeze over and become great recreational spaces for hockey, ice-skating and more
Two figures play ice hockey outdoors
There is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice. However, precautions can be taken to reduce the risks. To ensure you have a safe and healthy winter season, understand ice colour, location, weather and what to do in an emergency, so you know when it’s safe to play.

Color and Depth
The colour of ice may be an indication of its strength − clear blue to black ice is strongest, and likely the deepest. You should only skate on ice that is 20+ cm thick. White opaque or snow ice should be avoided. Grey ice indicates the presence of water and is unsafe to stand on.

Ice thickness is never consistent. The weakest ice will be in the center and along the edge of the water. Avoid streams and flowing water, even if they look frozen. Avoid ice that has recently frozen, thawed, and then frozen again. The safer place to skate is on a still body of water, such as a lake.

Canada is prone to fluctuating weather conditions. Consistent air temperatures below freezing make for safer, stronger ice. Swings above zero can compromise the integrity of ice by melting existing ice or changing the water level, leaving unsafe spots in both the centre and shoreline of a lake.

When spending time on the ice, you should always be prepared for the worst-case scenario and have an emergency plan. If you get into trouble on ice and you're by yourself:
  1. Call for help. Resist the immediate urge to climb back out where you fell in. The ice is weak in this area.
  2. Try to relax and catch your breath. Turn yourself toward shore so you are looking at where you entered onto the ice. The ice is more stable close to shore.
  3. Reach forward onto the broken ice without pushing down. Kick your legs to try to get your A woman wearing a parka skates on a deserted wide frozen lakebody into a horizonal position. Continue kicking your legs, and crawl onto the ice.
  4. 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. Do not stand up! Look for shore and make sure you are crawling in the right direction.  
Rescuing another person from ice can be dangerous. The safest way to perform a rescue is from shore:
  1. Call for help. Consider whether you can quickly get help from trained professionals (police, fire fighters or ambulance) or bystanders.
  2. Check if you can reach the person using a long pole or branch from shore – if so, lie down and extend the pole to the person.
  3. If you go onto ice, wear a PFD and carry a long pole or branch to test the ice in front of you. Bring something to reach or throw to the person (e.g. pole, weighted rope, line or tree branch).
  4. When near the break, lie down to distribute your weight and slowly crawl toward the hole. Remaining low, extend or throw your emergency rescue device (pole, rope, line or branch) to the person.
  5. Have the person kick while you pull them out.
Additionally, avoid vehicles on the lake as they can cause shock waves, or may not be able to safely stop.  Make sure kids are always under supervision and keep pets on a leash.

Have fun!
When you’re bundled up and prepared for the weather, ice activities are a great way to get exercise and have fun. By following the few tips above, you’re on the right track to enjoy the winter season to its fullest.

And remember, just because you’re frozen, doesn’t mean the ice is too.

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