Comments Off on What to do if you Fall through the Ice

fall through the iceThe winter months can be brutal, but they can also be a lot of fun.  If you live anywhere near a pond or a lake, you have undoubtedly enjoyed ice fishing, ice skating, or any other activity on the frozen water.  While thick is strong enough to hold a lot of weight, it is also easy to misjudge the strength, resulting in falling through to the cold waters below.   The water under a frozen lake can be absolutely frigid, and will sap the heat from your body in seconds, so you need to act fast.   If you know how to respond, however, you can get yourself to safety.

Be Prepared

Anytime you’re going out on the ice for any reason (especially if you’re alone) make sure you are prepared.  Using a spud bar, you can quickly tell how thick ice is, and avoid dangerous areas.  Having safety spikes can help you grab the edges with traction to pull yourself to safety.  Wearing clothes that can retain heat when wet is also important.  There are many other preparation ideas that you should follow so you can avoid falling through the ice.  Of course, you can’t prepare for everything, so it is important to know how to react if you do fall through.

Cover Your Mouth & Nose

As soon as you realize that the ice is cracking and you are going to fall through, take a breath and cover your mouth and nose securely with your hands.  When you go in the water your body will want to gasp, which could cause you to inhale freezing water.  Covering your face can prevent this, allowing you to avoid choking.  If possible, try to lean backwards while falling as well, as this can keep your head above water better.

Don’t Panic

Once you’re in the water, your body will want to go into ‘cold shock’ where you hyperventilate, gasp and flail around.  Force yourself to stay calm and remember how to get to safety.  Keep in mind, even in frigid waters; most people can survive 2-5 full minutes before losing strength or coordination.  In water that is even slightly warmer, that time can be significantly longer.

Find the Hole

If you fall through and are pulled under the ice, you need to find the hole you fell through as quickly as possible.  Look up and try to find contrasting colors.  If the ice above was covered with snow, the hole will appear darker.  If the ice didn’t have snow, it will appear lighter.  Find the area that looks different than the rest of the surface, and that is your hole.  Swim toward it .

Float First

Once you’re above water, your initial instinct will be to try to swim quickly to the edges.  This can put your face and head back in the water, which is dangerous.  It is better to move slowly with your head fully above water, so tread water and move slowly toward the edge.  If you are wearing a back pack or other heavy item, quickly remove it and let it drop.

Look for Strong Ice

The closest edge of the whole may be the place you want to go, but it is better to take a quick moment to look at the surrounding area.  You want to find strong ice that won’t collapse when you are getting out.  Thicker ice that isn’t cracked is your best bet, even if it is a little further away.

Get as Far Out of the Water as Possible

When you’re trying to get out, you may find that it is impossible to lift your entire body out of the water because of the extra weight from water being absorbed in your clothes. Lean over the edge of the ice, and get as much of your body out as you can.  As the water from your shirt, coat and other materials drains, you will be able to pull yourself out further.  Keep kicking your legs to generate heat, and to stay in one place.  Pulling yourself up inch-by-inch if necessary is the best way to get out.

Roll From the Hole

Once you’re all the way out of the water, don’t stand up.  This ice is likely still not strong enough to hold your weight on your feet.  Just roll along toward shore or a known strong location.  Rolling will distribute your weight over a larger area, so the ice will hold you up. Once you are certain the ice is strong enough, stand up and walk toward the shore or a warm location.

Find Warmth Fast

Once you are out of the water, there is still danger of hypothermia.  Even if you don’t feel cold, because you are numb, it is important to get your body temperature back to normal as soon as possible.  Hypothermia does take some time to set in, so don’t panic.  If there isn’t shelter nearby, start a fire as fast as you can, and build it up as large as you safely can.   If there is shelter, get inside and warm right away.

Seek Medical Attention

Even if you feel like you are warm and safe, get to a doctor as quickly as you can.  They can evaluate you for hypothermia, frost bite and other cold related medical problems.

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