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DNR urges extreme caution on early ice, around cold water


Anglers in Minnesota have begun making their first forays onto hard water, but ice conditions statewide – and even on the same body of water – remain extremely variable. Safety officials with the Department of Natural Resources remind people to stay off the ice until there’s at least four inches of new, clear ice. They should be vigilant about safety and check conditions at least every 150 feet whenever they’re on the ice. 

“No fish is worth the risk of going through thin ice,” said DNR Conservation Officer Adam Block. 

Every year, unexpected falls through newly formed ice lead to tragedy. Of the six ice fatalities in 2017, five occurred during the early ice season of late November and early December.

“In addition to checking conditions locally and being prepared with an ice safety kit, anyone recreating on hard water should wear a life jacket,” Block said. “It’s the one piece of equipment that increases your odds of not drowning from cold water shock, hypothermia or exhaustion should you fall through the ice.”

Last winter, all of the fatalities occurred while the victim was on an ATV or snowmobile. The extra weight of an ATV (especially the popular side-by-side styles) and snowmobile needs to be considered when calculating how much ice is needed to support the machines, gear and passengers.

Open-water danger

In addition to early ice, there are water bodies that still have open water accessible to late-season anglers, boaters and paddlers.

“Air temperatures might be relatively mild, but don’t let that deceive you,” said Lisa Dugan, DNR recreation safety outreach coordinator. “Water temperatures are dangerously cold across the entire state, which means it’s more important than ever to wear that life jacket. “A fall into extremely cold water can incapacitate you within seconds.”

State statistics show one-third of boating fatalities typically occur during the “cold water season.” Of the 14 reported boating fatalities in 2018, all victims were male and all but one was found without a life jacket.

“This is a troubling trend – one that will only be reversed if boaters in that high-risk demographic choose to put safety first by wearing their life jacket,” Dugan said.

General ice safety guidelines

No ice can ever be considered “safe ice,” but following these guidelines can help minimize the risk:

Always wear a life jacket or float coat on the ice (except when in a vehicle).

Carry ice picks, rope, an ice chisel and tape measure.

Check ice thickness at regular intervals; conditions can change quickly.

Bring a cell phone or personal locator beacon.

Don’t go out alone; let someone know about trip plans and expected return time.

Before heading out, inquire about conditions and known hazards with local experts.

The minimum ice thickness guidelines for new, clear ice are: four inches for ice fishing or other activities on foot, five to seven inches for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle, eight-12 inches for a car or small pickup, 12-15 inches for a medium truck. Double these minimums for white or snow-covered ice.

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