Ice Safety

Precautions need to be taken to ensure ice is safe for your winter recreational activities, but determining the strength of ice is difficult. There is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice. Most ice-related accidents occur when people don’t understand ice formation or how to read ice conditions, as well as carelessness, overconfidence, and a lack of appreciation for the risks involved when on the ice. 

When determining the safety of ice, remember the following:

  • Ice strength depends on a combination of factors: thickness, external temperature over a period of time and on the day, snow coverage, depth of water under the ice, size of water body, chemical composition of water (fresh or saltwater), and local climate fluctuations.
  • Ice thickness is never consistent, so always take multiple measurements.
  • Snow on ice acts as an insulator, making ice warmer and weaker.
  • Extreme cold snaps will weaken ice.
  • The weakest ice will be in the center and along the edge of the water.
  • Wet cracks, along with slushy and darker areas are normally weaker.
  • Snow can cover open-water areas, so use extreme caution.
  • Ice over running water is more dangerous than ice over lakes and ponds.

Tips for staying safe on the ice include the following:

  • Never go on ice that is less than 4 inches thick.
  • Only go on clear, thick ice. Cloudy ice is unsafe.
  • Wear a life jacket for warmth and safety.
  • Dress warmly in layers.
  • Always keep your pets on a leash. If a pet falls through the ice, do not attempt a rescue. Go for help.
  • Carry ice picks or claws and know how to rescue yourself or someone else.
  • Always go out with a partner and inform others of your plans.
  • Have an emergency plan and carry a first-aid kit, extra clothes, and blankets for emergencies.

For a fact sheet on ice safety, go to .