‘No ice is safe ice’: What to know before venturing out

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The cold air has officially settled into West Michigan, and with the cold comes great opportunities for winter fun. 

Before setting out across a frozen lake on your snowmobile or strapping on your ice skates for a few laps around a backyard pond, it’s important to remember there are dangers of recreational ice activities. 

“No ice is safe ice” is what Lt. Gerald Thayer of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division wants people to keep in mind as they’re planning a day on the frozen rivers or waterways. Though there are ways to minimize risks, there will always be some danger when venturing out onto the ice. 


Thayer recommends using an ice spud as you walk out on the ice and having ice picks with you. The ice picks will help you crawl your way back onto the ice if you happen to fall in.

Coast Guard: Dress for the water not the weather

Make sure to wear layers and appropriate gear for cold weather. Some companies make clothing that have flotation, which will help you in get to safety or stay afloat until help can arrive. 


The geography of lakes and waterways can be complex, and there are certain geographical features to be aware of before venturing out.

Underwater currents caused by streams or rivers flowing in or out of the body of water can lead to areas of thin ice. Sandbars and even things like debris from a fallen tree can lead to areas of thin ice, because the sun will heat the debris and impact the temperature of the ground.

Having familiarity with the body of water you want to fish or snowmobile on is hugely beneficial. 


According to Thayer, clear, dark ice is going to be your safest option. 

Ice that is covered in slush is something to be cautious of because the ice beneath it will be in a weakened state.

You’ll also want to be wary of ice covered in snow. Snow acts as an insulator and weakens the ice, plus the weight of the snow can lead to cracks in the ice below.

White ice with visible bubbles or a honeycomb pattern is likely caused by temperatures swinging from warm to cold and will not be as strong as clear, darker ice. 


Thayer recommends turning around and swimming vigorously back to the ice shelf you were on before you fell, as you know that area of ice is safe. The ice picks will be immensely helpful in getting back on the ice.

Once out of the water, don’t stand right away. Instead, spread your weight out across the ice by rolling away. Finally, get to a warm place as soon as possible to avoid hypothermia. 

One of the best ways to reduce dangers from recreational ice activities is to never go alone. Having a partner on the ice increases the likelihood that if an incident does occur, there will be someone there to assist or call 911. For more useful tips on ice safety, you can check out the Michigan DNR website.

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