No such thing as safe ice, only safer ice

Ask anyone who has had the misfortune of falling through thin or bad ice, and most would agree: There is no such thing as safe ice, only safer ice.

Northern U.S. states with plenty of ice-related activities are sending out warnings.

"It is a cold and painful lesson that Mother Nature teaches us," said Col. Michael Crider, head of Indiana's Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division. "Ice fishermen aren't fair weather fisherman, that's for sure. Anyone unprepared or uninformed is likely have a date with disaster sometime during their ice fishing years."

The advisories come after the tragic deaths last weekend of three men who died in separate incidents on two northern Indiana lakes.

Two men died Sunday evening when their snowmobiles broke through the ice and entered the icy waters of Sylvan Lake. Another man died Saturday when his ice boat overturned, broke through the ice and fell into Lake Maxinkuckee.

Noting that some of the lowest temperatures of the winter are forecast this week, some people may be tempted to venture out onto the ice and should be aware of basic safety tips, including being prepared for an emergency.

The states offer these ice safety rules to minimize the risks associated with ice fishing and other ice-related activities.

    • Always remember that ice-covered water is never completely safe.

    • Four inches of new clear ice is recommended for foot travel; if you go by snowmobile or ATV, 5 inches is the minimum.

    • Avoid alcoholic beverages. In addition to reducing reaction times, alcohol lowers your internal temperature and increases the chances of suffering hypothermia.

    • If possible, take with you a mobile phone wrapped in a plastic bag.

    • Never drive a vehicle, snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle onto ice. Leave this to professional guides. This is extremely dangerous and most insurance policies will not cover the vehicles of ice fishermen who have dropped through the ice.

    • Never fish alone. Always take a buddy and let someone know where you are going.

    • Wear a life jacket under your winter gear. It not only will keep you buoyant should you fall through, but also will provide additional warmth.

    • Carry ice picks or ice awls. These will allow you to pull yourself out of the water and onto the ice.

    • Should you go through, remain calm. Turn in the direction you came from. Extend your hands and arms, forcing the ice picks solidly into the ice ahead of you. Kick your feet and pull yourself out onto the ice. Do not stand up! By rolling away from the hole, you spread out your weight until you are able to reach solid ice.

    • Carry a signaling type of whistle. Using it may be the only way to let someone know that you are in trouble. A cell phone can be a valuable survival tool but only as long as it remains dry. Carrying a length of rope also can be useful.

    • Stay away from areas on lakes that have inlets or outlets. Be mindful about flowing water if fishing on a channel between two lakes. Pay close attention to fluctuating water levels.

    • Dress in layers and add extra clothing for the head, neck, sides and groin, which are the primary heat-loss areas. Wool and modern synthetics are good fabric choices for clothing; cotton when wet is slow to dry.

    • Keep an extra set of clothes in your car in case you do need dry clothing.

Remember to think ahead and have a plan.