Be careful out there

Officials offer safety tips for venturing onto the ice

DAN JAMISON OF RANDVILLE spent a recent morning ice fishing at Lake Antoine in Iron Mountain. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

MARQUETTE — With enough cold weather to draw winter sports enthusiasts out, officials are reminding the public to be careful and prepared if they choose to go out on the ice.

“The first thing that we want to get across is that ice on the Great Lakes is unpredictable and dangerous,” said Olivia Hurn, a U.S. Coast Guard petty officer stationed in Marquette. “The second thing is, always check the weather and ice conditions before any trip out on to the ice.”

It’s important to remember that “no ice is safe ice,” she said, noting that ice thickness can vary greatly, even in a small area — and looks can be deceiving.

Many factors can contribute to ice thickness in a given area, and ice covered in snow or slush can be significantly weaker than fresh clear ice. Ice that appears milky or off-colored should be avoided, as it may have become weaker after being thawed and refrozen, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

This makes checking conditions before and during a trip out on the ice critical, officials said.

“Always test the ice in front of you as you proceed. Typically, punching the ice in front of you with a spud can alert you to soft or thin spots in what appears to be otherwise solid ice,” the DNR states. “Make sure the ice is appropriate for your activity. Although there are many reference guides available that attempt to recommend appropriate thicknesses of ice for various activities — from a single angler walking to groups taking ATVs or snowmobiles – the Michigan DNR does not recommend standard thicknesses, other than to say ice less than 4 inches thick should be considered unsafe.”

It’s also advisable to avoid areas where items such as timber, dock posts, or vegetation are sticking through the ice, DNR officials said.

For those who do plan an excursion on to the ice, it’s important to be prepared, Hurn said.

“You should only go out on the ice if you are appropriately dressed for a potential fall through, physically capable of self-rescue and are not alone,” she said.

Appropriate gear includes warm and bright clothing, a personal flotation device, and ice cleats or ice creepers, officials said.

“Hypothermia is the biggest danger after falling in the ice,” Hurn added. “Be prepared if you’re planning to go out on to the ice.”

Other important items for those venturing out on the ice, she said, include a cell phone, floating rescue ropes, a spud or ice chisel and additional safety equipment, such as ice picks or screwdrivers and a whistle.

“Even if you don’t think you’ll fall in, just dress for the worst,” Hurn said.

To address this, the Marquette City Fire Department distributed nearly 400 ice pick and whistle ice safety kits this year and last year with funds from a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community grant.

While the kits ran out as of Thursday afternoon, the department continues to encourage the public to bring these items if they go out on the ice, officials said.

“Try to always go with somebody,” Marquette City Fire Department Engineer Dan Pruner also recommended, adding they advise people not venture out on the ice if not necessary.

Make sure others know where you are, officials said, and use the buddy system.

“Always tell family and friends where you are going and when to expect you back. Stick to the plan or notify them when your plans are changed,” Hurn said.

Those who do fall through the ice should, according to the DNR:

— Try to remain calm.

— Don’t remove winter clothing. Heavy clothes won’t drag you down but rather trap air to provide warmth and flotation, especially snowmobile suits.

— Turn in the water toward the direction you came from, as it is probably the strongest ice.

— If you have ice picks, dig the points of the ice picks into the ice and pull yourself onto the surface of the ice while vigorously kicking your feet by sliding forward on the ice.

— Roll away from the area of weak ice, as rolling on the ice will distribute your weight more evenly and help avoid a second breakthrough.

— Access shelter, heat, dry clothing and warm drinks, without alcohol or caffeine.

— Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering, or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia.