Ice Fishing can be a very fun outdoor activity, especially when done safely. Simple things can be done to have a fun, safe outing. For example, if there is snow on the ice, look for footprints from others. This is an easy indicator that the ice is safe for walking.


Some cold facts about ice

  • New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly‑formed ice may support one person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially‑thawed ice may not.
  • Ice seldom freezes uniformly. It may be a foot thick in one location and only an inch or two just a few feet away.
  • Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous. This is especially true near streams, bridges and culverts. Also, the ice outside river bends is usually weaker due to the undermining effects of the faster current.
  • The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. The extra weight also reduces how much weight the ice sheet can support. Also, ice near shore can be weaker than ice that is farther out.
  • Booming and cracking ice isn't necessarily dangerous. It only means that the ice is expanding and contracting as the temperature changes.
  • Schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl can also adversely affect the relative safety of ice. The movement of fish can bring warm water up from the bottom of the lake. In the past, this has opened holes in the ice causing snowmobiles and cars to break through.

For new, clear ice only

Ice Fishing Infogram

2" or less - STAY OFF

4" - Ice fishing or other activities on foot

5" - Snowmobile or ATV

8" - 12" - Car or small pickup

12" - 15" - Medium truck

Note:  These guidelines are for new, clear solid ice.

Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.

White ice or "snow ice" is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Double the above thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice.

What if Someone else Falls in?

What if someone else falls through and you are the only one around to help?

  • First, call 911 for help. There is a good chance someone near you may be carrying a cell phone.
  • Resist the urge to run up to the edge of the hole. This would most likely result in two victims in the water. Also, do not risk your life to attempt to save a pet or other animal.

Preach, Reach, Throw, Row, Go

  • PREACH ‑ Shout to the victim to encourage them to fight to survive and reassure them that help is on the way.
  • REACH ‑ If you can safely reach the victim from shore, extend an object such as a rope, ladder, or jumper cables to the victim. If the person starts to pull you in, release your grip on the object and start over.
  • THROW ‑ Toss one end of a rope or something that will float to the victim. Have them tie the rope around themselves before they are too weakened by the cold to grasp it.
  • ROW ‑ Find a light boat to push across the ice ahead of you. Push it to the edge of the hole, get into the boat and pull the victim in over the bow. It's not a bad idea to attach some rope to the boat, so others can help pull you and the victim to safety.
  • GO ‑ A non‑professional shouldn't go out on the ice to perform a rescue unless all other basic rescue techniques have been ruled out.

If the situation is too dangerous for you to perform the rescue, call 911 for help and keep reassuring the victim that help is on the way and urge them to fight to survive. Heroics by well‑meaning but untrained rescuers sometimes result in two deaths.

Traveling on Ice

The following guidelines can help you make wise choices...

  • Check for known thin ice areas with a local resort or bait shop.
    Test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel, ice auger or even a cordless 1/4 inch drill with a long bit.
  • Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible.
    If you must drive a vehicle, be prepared to leave it in a hurry--keep windows down and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers.
  • Stay away from alcoholic beverages.
    Even "just a couple of beers" are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life. And contrary to common belief, alcohol actually makes you colder rather than warming you up.
  • Don't "overdrive" your snowmobile's headlight.
    At even 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was traveling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated the hole in the ice.
  • Wear a life vest under your winter gear.
    Or wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits. And it's a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be homemade or purchased from most well stocked sporting goods stores that cater to winter anglers. It's amazing how difficult it can be to pull yourself back onto the surface of unbroken but wet and slippery ice while wearing a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 lbs of water.The ice picks really help pulling yourself back onto solid ice. CAUTION: Do NOT wear a flotation device when traveling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle!

Content Copyright 2013  Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Reprinted with Permission