This time of year many anglers switch their fishing efforts over to ice fishing. Just like other water activities ice fisherman need to take some precautions in order to maximize their safety while on the frozen lakes and ponds. It's important to never take anything for granted and understand ice is never 100% safe.
One of the obvious things to consider is the thickness and condition of the ice. White ice, often called "snow" ice, needs to be twice as thick as new clear hard ice for the same activity. Most experts agree that no one should venture onto ice that is less than four inches thick. This number is just a guideline as there are many other factors that can make ice unstable and unsafe that could require even greater thickness for safety. The same applies to the following ice thickness guidelines.
4 inches: one person ice fishing weighing 200 lbs with gear.
5 inches: one snowmobile or atv.
6 inches: one ice boat.
7 inches: several ice fishermen or ice skaters.
8 inches: one car under the most ideal of conditions
9 inches: several snowmobile or atvs
12 inches: one small pick-up truck
15 inches: one medium pick-up truck
Remember, for white ice the thickness doubles.
When going out on the ice bring along some basic safety equipment. Items like a cordless drill can help you determine if the ice is thick enough. Use a 5/8 wood auger drill bit to bore a hole in the ice and then measure the thickness with a standard measuring tape. If possible, contact a local sport shop and inquire about the safety of the ice. Though, it's still a good idea to drill your own test hole just to be sure.
Another piece of safety equipment to bring along is a standard boat cushion. This can help provide flotation should someone go through the ice. It's a good idea to have a line attached to the boat cushion so it can be used to help pull someone from the frigid water. A pair of ice claws can be a life saver and are easily made from two pieces of dowel and a pair of 16 penny nails. Simply use a 4 or 5 inch dowel and hammer the nails partway into the ends. Using a file or grinder, file the ends of the nails into a point. You can drill a hole into each end so you can nest the exposed nail points into each handle. A cord fastened between the two claws complete the ice claws. Make the cord long, like it were a jump rope.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has an excellent online guide to ice safety that can be found at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/ice/index.html They also have instructions for constructing your own ice claws and more suggestions to staying safe and having fun on the ice.
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