Safety Essentials: Myths and Self-Rescue Information
By Tim Allard
Tragically, every year
over 30 Canadians die in ice related incidents. When ice fishing
this year, make sure you're prepared with the following information
on common ice myths and self-rescue methods. Remember, ice is never
100% safe, so exercise caution at all times.
John Blaicher, ice safety expert and consultant for the Insurance
Bureau of Canada, explains there are many myths around ice safety.
The belief that cold
weather makes solid, thick, safe ice is one. Temperature
fluctuations, wind, a layer of snow on the ice, water current and
fluctuating water levels can all weaken ice, explains Blaicher. He
notes ice doesn't form in a uniform thickness everywhere on a body
of water either, another common misconception.
"Snow helps ice form
quickly" is another false notion. Snow insulates ice and in some
instances, a snowfall warms and melts existing ice.
Think all thick ice is
strong? Think again, advises Blaicher. Ice containing layers of snow
or water, spring ice, or ice that has thawed and frozen several
times are often weak and should not be trusted to support weight.
The strongest ice is
clear black, blue or green ice. The Lifesaving Society, and many
other North American water safety authorities, recommend a minimum
thickness of 10 cm (4 inches) of new, clear ice for a single person
to ice fish on.
Another misconception is the better you can swim the better your
chances of rescuing yourself should you fall through. "The reality
is swimming skills are only a small part of an ice-related rescue,"
says Blaicher, who explains the proper self-rescue process as
Practices "What kills most people that fall in cold water is not
hypothermia, but drowning because they can't keep their head above
water," says Blaicher.
"In the first minute
the goal is to get one's breathing under control as the body
experiences cold shock," he said. The initial plunge in cold water
results in breathing difficulties, beginning with a large
involuntary gasp. Staying calm, controlling your breathing and
calling for help should be the first things you do before attempting
to get out.
"Once breathing is
under control, the next ten minutes are critical to use your big
motor muscles and try to get out of the water. In cold water the
brain sends signals to redirect blood flow to the body's core and
starts to shut down blood flow to the extremities of the arms and
legs," said Blaicher. Wearing flotation garments and being buoyant
dramatically improves one's ability to breathe, swim and lift
oneself out of the water, he adds, but time is of the essence. Ice
anglers are best to wear suits providing floatation and thermal
protection, like Mustang's Integrity Floatation Suit or Helly
Hansen's Alpha One Piece Suit.
To get out of the water
and onto safe ice, do the following. Kick vigorously into a
horizontal, floating position. Swim in the direction you came; this
ice already supported your weight. At the edge, reach forward onto
the ice, gently lift your torso to drain some water from your
clothing and reduce your weight. Having ice picks gives you extra
Next, kick into a
horizontal position; thrust yourself up onto the ice like a seal
using your arms and legs to propel yourself forward. Do not stand
up. Raise your upper body so water drains from your clothing to
reduce weight. Look ahead to make sure you are going in the right
direction. Remain on your stomach, crawling forward. Staying flat
evenly distributes weight, lessening your chances of falling through
again. Don't stand up until you reach ground or solid ice.
If unable to get out of
the water, the clock is ticking. "In ice cold water, the average
person has upwards of 60 minutes of survival time before the heart
stops or unconsciousness sets in due to hypothermia," said Blaicher,
who cautions there are many influencing factors, affecting this
If you do make it out
of the water, Blaicher suggests getting to shelter you can find in
less than 30 minutes or remaining and protecting yourself from the
elements. In each case, ring out wet clothing and change into dry
clothing if available. If seeking shelter keep moving to increase
heat production, but don't exhaust yourself. If staying put, wrap
yourself in some kind of wind break or insulation. If you can, get
off the ice and build a fire to warm yourself.
At no time should an
untrained individual attempt an ice rescue says Blaicher. Call
911for help and get assistance from trained professionals.
carrying a few safety items when ice fishing. The Life Saving
Society recommends carrying a small personal safety kit when
travelling on ice. It should include: a lighter, waterproof matches,
a magnesium fire starter, a pocket knife, a compass and a whistle.
Keep a cellular phone in a waterproof, soft-plastic pouch too. Ice
picks and rope are also worthwhile to carry. Carrying spare clothes
in your vehicle is also good practice.
This winter, heed
Blaicher's advise and exercise precaution at all times around ice.
If there's any doubt of the ice's safety, stay off!