Between 1991 and 2000, 450 people in Canada drowned after falling through ice. Almost half of the victims were snowmobiling, while others were enjoying ice activities such as skating or fishing.
?Ice is very inconsistent at this time of year and can?t be trusted,? says Rebecca Row, Program Representative with the Red Cross. The situation is made more dangerous because snow may obscure the ice, making it difficult to see the condition of the ice. Fluctuating temperatures in some areas further compromise the integrity of the ice. ?Rather than risk falling through, people should avoid going on or near the ice altogether until there has been sufficient cold weather to ensure it is safe.?
To be safe, the Red Cross recommends that ice be at least 15 cm (6 inches) deep for small groups, and 20 cm (8 inches) for larger groups or hockey teams. Before taking a snowmobile onto the ice, it must exceed 25 cm (10 inches) in depth. A car or truck requires 40 cm of ice to be safe.
Local authorities in some areas can provide information on ice conditions. If this information is unavailable, individuals should test the ice before venturing out. If you must measure ice thickness yourself, drill test holes 15 metres apart in a river or 30 metres apart in a lake. When going onto the ice to drill these holes start testing close to shore, wear a personal flotation device, and finally, proceed with caution in case you fall through the ice. Ensure you have a partner supervising your progress from the shore. This person should follow at a safe distance and should carry a reaching assist like a long pole or line in the event rescue is required.
If you do fall through the ice, use your legs to kick into a horizontal position, then swim, roll or slither onto stable and thicker ice. Bystanders should avoid venturing out onto the ice if someone has fallen through. Instead, use an object such as a hockey stick, pole, branch, rope, belt or scarf to reach out to a person. If you cannot reach the fallen person without venturing out onto the ice, lie down to distribute your weight more evenly, and slowly slither towards the hole until you can reach the person who has fallen through.
Once out of the water, hypothermia presents a danger. Huddle for warmth. Get out of the wind and out of wet clothing as quickly as possible. Hypothermia victims should never have alcohol or caffeinated drinks. Seek medical attention.
?Reacting well in a crisis can save lives, but prevention is the best plan of action,? Row says. ?When the conditions are questionable, stay off the ice.?