The winterâ€™s first ice is already skimming Minnesota lakes and ponds and, unfortunately,Â with it comes the ice tragedy season. Every year we hear of people drowning because they broke through ice they thought was safe.
We think to ourselves, “If I fell through, Iâ€™d just climb back onto the solid ice and be just fine.” Unfortunately, thisÂ is much easier said than done. First, when you fall through the ice, youâ€™re taken by surprise (if you knew you were going to break through, you wouldnâ€™t have walked there in the first place, right?) The sudden shockÂ to your body plunging into freezing water adds to the confusion and panic. Cold water saps body heat 25 times faster than air of the same temperature. Just try holding your hand in a sink full of ice water for more than a few seconds and youâ€™ll see what I mean.
And, should you accidentally fall through thin ice, then comes the difficult task of pulling oneself out of the cold water onto the surface of the wet and slippery ice. Unless you have a plan of action for just such emergencies, your chances of getting out safely can be pretty slim.
Should the need arise, here is a plan that can help increase your chances for surviving a sudden icy dip, you can purchase a set of commercially made ice rescue picks or “claws” or, if you have a few simple tools and a little skill in the workshop, you can make a set for a couple of dollars for materials.
1) Get two 4″ pieces of wooden doweling the size of a broom handle or a little larger. Whatever material you select, it should float in case you drop the claws while struggling.
2) Drive a stout nail into one end of each dowel.
3) Use a file or grinderÂ to sharpen the nail heads to a point.
4) Drill a hole into the dowels (in the end opposite the nail) and tie a length of strong cord through the hole so a pick is on each endâ€¦”jump-rope” fashion. Keep the picks in your pocket for quick emergency access if you or a companion do break through.
If you do break through, try to remain calm. Turn in the water towards the direction you came from â€“ that is probably the strongest ice. Dig the points of the picks into the ice and while vigorously kicking your feet, pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice. Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again. Get to shelter, heat, warm dry clothing and warm, non-alcoholic, and non-caffeinated drinks.Â 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 (the life-threatening drop in the bodyâ€™s core temperature).
What If your buddy breaks through?
First tell them to “Stay calm” and that “Weâ€™ll get you out of there.” Then throw them the picks and explain how to use them. Remember that by kicking their feet, the thrust of the kicks can help push them back onto the solid ice.
I hope you never have to use â€œice clawsâ€ on your ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing or hiking adventures on frozen waters this winter. But, just having a pair of these items with you may offer you a welcome â€œcomfort factorâ€.