New Hampshire Fish and Game Department Conservation Officers would like to remind outdoor enthusiasts to exercise caution when enjoying winter activities on or near the ice.
“It is imperative that you personally check the ice thickness on a waterbody as you venture out on foot or before riding out on a snowmobile or Off-Highway Recreational Vehicle,” said Captain Dave Walsh, who coordinates OHRV Enforcement and Safety Education for Fish and Game. “Do not assume that just because the ice is safe in one location that it will be safe 100 yards farther away. If you don’t know, don’t go.”
Walsh adds that you should also be sure to bring along a rescue rope, ice picks, and a personal flotation device such as a float coat or conventional life preserver.
Because ice conditions can be unpredictable and lack uniformity, it is not advisable to drive vehicles onto the ice. Those on foot should carefully assess ice safety before venturing out by using an ice chisel or auger to determine ice thickness and condition. Continue to do this as you get further out on to the ice, because the thickness of the ice will not be uniform all over the waterbody. See a short video of how to check ice thickness at wildlife.state.nh.us/outdoor-recreation/ice-safety.html.
Though all ice is potentially dangerous, the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., offers a “rule of thumb” on ice thickness: There should be a minimum of six inches of hard ice before individual foot travel, and eight to ten inches of hard ice for snow machine or All-Terrain Vehicle travel.
Keep in mind that thick ice does not always mean safe ice. It is possible for ice to be thick, but not strong, because of varying weather conditions. Weak ice is formed when warming trends break down ice, then the slushy surface re-freezes. Be especially careful of areas with current, such as inlets, outlets, and spring holes, where the ice can be dangerously thin.
Tips for staying safe on the ice include:
- Stay off the ice along the shoreline if it is cracked or squishy. Don’t go on the ice during thaws.
- Watch out for thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and ice may also indicate weak spots.
- Remember that small bodies of water tend to freeze thicker. Rivers and lakes are more prone to wind, currents, and wave action that weaken ice.
- Don’t gather in large groups or drive large vehicles onto the ice.
- If you do break through the ice, do not panic. Move or swim back to where you fell in, where you know the ice was solid. Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. A set of ice picks can help you pull yourself out if you do fall through the ice; wear them around your neck or put them in an easily accessible pocket. Once out of the water, roll away from the hole until you reach solid ice.
Don’t assume a snowmobile trail is safe just because it exists; check out trail conditions at nhstateparks.org/activities/snowmobiling/trail-information.aspx before you go.