In a previous article, I discussed how to safely venture onto the ice and the steps you should take to avoid ending up in the water. But, accidents happen, and another aspect of being safe on the ice is being prepared for the possibility that you might fall through. Make no mistake about it – falling through the ice is a life or death situation, and survival depends on having the proper equipment and skills necessary to get out, get warm and get help.
Have What You Need When You Need It
As with anything, ice safety often starts with having the proper equipment available. At a very minimum, it is recommended you wear a PFD when going onto the ice, so if you do go through, it will at least keep you on the surface rather than trapped below the surrounding ice. Next, it is very useful to have a long staff to test ice ahead of you and ice awls to provide grip when trying to pull yourself out. If going on the ice is a preplanned event or a normal part of your day, it would also be beneficial to carry dry clothing in your vehicle and make sure someone knows where you will be.
Slide, Don’t Fall
Sudden submersion in cold water is a shock to you and your body, and this shock is one of the more dangerous aspects of falling through the ice. You may not be able to avoid going into the water, but you can control it. If you feel the ice giving way, try to sit or lay down and allow the water to open around you rather than dropping out from under your feet and dumping you.
Cover and Control
One of the reasons sudden immersion is so dangerous is the involuntary ingestion of cold water – something which is very difficult to avoid when dunked unexpectedly. If possible, it is important to make every effort to keep your head above water, which will be much easier if wearing a PFD. When you do not think it is possible to keep your head out of the water, you should cover your mouth and nose to limit the amount of water you take in.
Once in the water, you need to control the situation and yourself. If you panic, you will waste valuable time and energy, both of which are limited and vital to your survival. Take a minute to assess the situation, take inventory of your available equipment and formulate a plan. If there is anyone else in the area, call for help. The time you spend doing this will be well worth it if it allows you to perform a safe and timely self-rescue.
Getting Out of the Water
When you fall through the ice, the only means of survival is to get out of the water. If you are alone, this means a self-rescue. Many who have never done this before see it as an impossible task; while others fail to recognize the potential difficulty involved. The truth is, it does include some special skills.
- Get into position- turn towards the shore side solid ice, pushing any loose pieces out of the way to allow access to the main shelf. Place your arms on the solid ice, and let your legs float behind you.
- Kick – pulling yourself onto the ice is often difficult, as it relies on your arms alone as a power source. Instead, I recommend kicking like a frog while at the same time attempting to get a grip with your ice awls, keys or anything else that will provide a purchase. Do not panic if the ice breaks under you weight – this is normal. Just keep kicking your way onto the next piece of ice until you are out and on a solid area.
- Crawl to safety- avoid the temptation to stand and run to shore, these is likely to be more weakened ice in the area. Once on ice capable of holding your weight, slide and crawl towards shore, distributing your weight to avoid falling through again.
- Get warm and get help – once ashore, you need to get warm. If you have a vehicle nearby get in and crank the heat. If you have spare clothing available, swap it out for what is wet. Even after getting safely to shore and getting warm, you are not out of danger. You need to be evaluated medically to ensure there are no long term injuries or health concerns.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.