The biggest questions is how thick is thick enough? I can tell you this, I won't be the first person ice fishing, instead I will usually be late to the game just to be safe. Most charts on ice safety use 4 inches as safe for one angler and gear and 7 to 8 inches for group activities. It is also important to remember that ice thickness is not the same across the entire body of water soa good rule of thumb is to check the ice thickness every 150 feet. It's important to note that moving water like a river or a stream will wear ice from below so the view from above may be misleading. To be safe you should always check the thickness of ice and be aware of the under structure as well as this could affect water movement and the thickness in that area.
What do you do if you fall through the ice?
- Don't Panic and stay calm.
- Do NOT remove your clothes as the trapped air can provide some extra flotation.
- Turn back the way you came as you know that ice was safe.
- Place your hands and arms on the ice and kick your feet to help you get back on the ice.
- Once back on the ice stay flat and roll away from the hole.
- Get dry and warm immediately.
What if someone else falls through the ice? Practice Reach, Throw and Go.
- REACH - Use something like a pole or branch to reach out to the person.
- THROW - Throw a rope or PFD to the person.
- GO - Go for help. If you are the only other person present DO NOT try to approach the person yourself.
It is very important to be prepared for a day on the ice and to have items to help you out in a bad situtaion and to make those cold days a little more comfortable. Something like a boat cushion not only adds a little comfort to your sit, but can be used to help someone who falls through the ice. Here are some other items that should be part of your ice fishing gear.
- Ice Awls like the Picks of Life can be a life saver if you fall in and no one is around to help and at the cost of less than $20 there is no excuse for not having a pair or two but if you can't afford the cost you can make your own with just some rope, dowels and nails.
- Ice cleats or creepers that you can slip on over your boats that will provide the necessary traction to keep you vertical and stop the potential of a bad fall where you smack your head on the ice which from personal experience is NOT a good feeling. Even some sand in a bucket can be handy and helpful.
- A rope with a buoy on the end can not only be used to help tow your sled full of gear but can be used to help rescue someone who falls through the ice.
- Extra socks, gloves or other clothing. During a day on the ice you are bound to get a little wet and getting dry and keeping warm is a must for a great day on the ice.
- Disposable hand warmers are part of every one of my outdoor gear packs as they provide quick and easy warmth when needed and inexpensive.
- First aid kit including matches. If you in a remote area you need to be ready for anything.
Some additional links with some great ice fishing safety information.
Make sure to review your Ice Safety and preparedness before your venture out for your first trip of the season so you can concentrate on landing the big one.
Happy Fishing and be safe and stay warm.