Staying safe on frozen lakes

Anglers, skaters and outdoor enthusiasts often take to the great outdoors when lakes and other bodies of water freeze. But even after days of below-freezing temperatures, lakes may not be solid, increasing the risk that revelers will fall through the ice, possibly resulting in drowning or hypothermia. As a result, it is imperative that safety precautions be taken when spending time on frozen lakes. Though it can be fun to skate or fish on a frozen lake, ice is never safe and it’s always in one’s best interest to treat ice with caution. Ice strength depends on various factors, including daily temperature, water depth, water chemistry, currents, and distribution of the load on the ice. It is impossible to judge the thickness of the ice by appearance alone. Your best bet is to proceed with caution and follow these tips for survival. * Be prepared for any scenario. Prepare for the possibility of a plunge. Carry a long metal or metal-tipped wood pole, called a spud bar, which can be used to test the strength of areas of ice you are unsure about. The bar also can be used as a walking stick. Carry safety spikes to provide traction if you fall through and need to climb up onto the ice. * Avoid crossing frozen bodies of water in a single file, as it may stress the ice. Also, never venture out alone. Always go with a partner or alert someone to your whereabouts. * Always wear a life jacket. Life jackets act as flotation devices until you can get to safety. * Do not take a vehicle onto the ice. Sixty-eight percent of the 117 ice fatalities that occurred in Minnesota in the last 40 years involved a vehicle. A car or light truck needs 8 to 12 inches of clear ice to be safe. * Be aware of cracks or fissures in the ice. Be extremely cautious crossing ice near river mouths, points of land, islands, and springs. Currents can cause ice to be thinner in these areas. * Carry a safety line. Such lines can be thrown to someone who has fallen through the ice. This may be the best method of pulling someone to safety. * Remain calm if you fall through the ice. Avoid thrashing, which can use up energy and body heat. Try to keep your head and face above the water. The body will react to the plunge by going into “cold shock,” a condition characterized by hyperventilation, involuntary gasping and internal responses including hypertension (high blood pressure) and changes in pulse rate. You do have time to get out. Many people can last two to five minutes in cold water before strength and coordination are compromised. Try to normalize your breathing to ensure you get enough oxygen to react and get to safety. Concentrate on breathing slowly and steadily. Kick your feet and pull yourself out of the water at the strongest edge of the ice. Try to roll up onto the ice, staying flat to distribute your body weight. Roll yourself away from the hole into which you fell and remain on your hands and knees until you crawl several feet away. Only then should you stand up and walk to safety to get dry and warm. Spending time on a frozen lake can be fun, but it’s also risky. Knowing how to react in an emergency situation may just save a life.

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