What to do before going out onto the ice — and if you fall through

With a number of cold days already this winter, people may thinking about venturing onto frozen bodies of water for some fun.

4 tips to stay safe on the ice this winter

Alanna Green, prevention and safety and disaster management coordinator with the Canadian Red Cross in P.E.I. says blue ice is generally frozen solid and safe to go on. (Submitted by Morgan Smallman)

As the freezing temperatures continue this winter, the Canadian Red Cross is advising Islanders to be cautious before going for a skate or a snowmobile ride on natural ice surfaces.

Alanna Green, the Red Cross prevention and safety and disaster management co-ordinator for P.E.I., offers these suggestions to help people stay safe on the ice.

1. Ice thickness

Depending on what people are doing on the ice, Green said, different levels of thickness are necessary for it to be safe: 15 centimetres for walking or skating, 20 cm for having lots of people doing different things, and 25 cm for snowmobiling.

She said people should check more than one spot of the ice to make sure it isn't thin in places.

Green says that snowmobiling can be dangerous when the ice isn't thick enough. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

Green said the colour of the ice can be a good indicator of whether it is safe to walk, skate or snowmobile across.

"Generally speaking, whenever you're looking at the ice it should be blue, blue is the strongest ice you should see," she said.

You want to make sure that people know where you're going, when you're going to be back, and you never go alone.— Alanna Green

"If it's white and opaque that usually has snow formed inside the ice so it's not as strong.

"If you're looking at it and it's grey or you can see water moving that's definitely something to steer away from."

Green also said the body of water you are trying to use could affect how safe the ice is.

"Moving ice is generally a little thinner because it's constantly moving, but standing ice in a lake or something like that would probably be better," she said.

2. Weather conditions

If you're planning to go for a skate or ride on the ice, make sure you have been paying attention to weather in the days before, Green said.

"People think, 'Oh it's been so cold outside it's gotta be thick.'"

But she said ice conditions can fluctuate depending upon the sun and the heat throughout the day.

Ice thickness can fluctuate depending on weather conditions says Green. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

"Once you've got a good layer of ice on there it should be OK but, again, always make sure you're checking in advance and always checking the weather as well," she said.

"You really need to keep in mind those factors, and always keep in mind with weather conditions anytime you're going out to to do those activities on the ice."  

3. Don't go out alone or at night

Green said going onto the ice at night can be dangerous because you can't see the colour of it, and you might not spot some of the potential hazards that could affect ice safety.

Resist the urge to climb back out of the water that you fell into, the ice may be weak in that area.— Alanna Green

"You can't see the thickness and you can't see the things that are around," she said.

She also warned people not to venture out alone, and to tell others the location you plan to go.

"You want to make sure that people know where you're going, when you're going to be back, and you never go alone," Green said. 

4. Escaping danger

If you do fall through the ice, Green said, try and make as much noise as you can calling for help.

"Resist the urge to climb back out of the water that you fell into, the ice may be weak in that area," she said.

Green said while on your belly, you should get as much of your body out of the water as possible before reaching forward onto the ice that's not broken — making sure you're not pushing down. Then you have to start "kicking your legs as opposed to reaching and pulling."

'Resist the urge to climb back out of the water ... the ice may be weak in that area,” says Green (Shutterstock / dzorikto)

She also said if you see someone in danger, the first thing to do is call emergency services for help.

Once that's done, it's best to try and find something to throw out to the person in the water, or an object that can reach them.

"The safest way to perform rescues is from shore," she said. "Try not to go out, as much as you can."

She added that if you have to go out onto to the ice to help, you should stay low and spread your weight as much as possible over the ice.

With files from Mainstreet P.E.I.