On dangerous ice – Coast Guard warns not all ice is safe

Record low temperatures this winter have led to many of America’s waterways freezing early – or in some cases for the first time in a long time – and a spate of ice rescues and some fatalities as people find themselves on dangerously thin ice.

BURLINGTON, Vt.- Seaman Jonathan Vorwerk rescues Senior Chief Petty Officer Louis Coleman from the icy, 33F-degree waters of Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vt., during an ice rescue drill, Friday, Jan. 16, 2009. The crew of Coast Guard Station Burlington frequently conducts ice rescue drills to familiarize themselves with the challenges that come with making rescues on a frozen lake. The air temperature hovered around negative 4F degrees. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Petty Officer 2nd Class Etta Smith)

(File Photo) The crew of Coast Guard Station Burlington conducting ice rescue drills in Lake Champlain. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Petty Officer 2nd Class Etta Smith)

The tragic deaths of a 50-year-old man, his daughter and his granddaughter after falling through a Vermont lake on snowmobiles this weekend drive home the fact that frozen waterways aren’t always safe and is a reminder of the dangers when venturing out on the ice. Next month will also mark the one-year anniversary of the February 7, 2009 rescue of 134 ice fisherman on a breakaway ice floe in Southern Lake Erie.

The Coast Guard is reminding people to think ICE when planning recreational activities on or around frozen ponds, streams, rivers and lakes:

I – Intelligence: Know the weather and ice conditions. Know where you’re going and how to call for help.
C – Clothing: Have proper clothing to prevent hypothermia.
E – Equipment: Have proper equipment (marine radio, life jackets, screw drivers/ice picks, etc.)

The following ice safety tips come from the Coast Guard’s Ninth District, which includes the Great Lakes:

  • Ice is unpredictable and dangerous.
  • Always check the weather and ice conditions before any trip out onto the ice. Ice thickness is not consistent. Water currents, particularly around narrow spots, bridges, inlets and outlets are always suspect for thin ice. Stay away from cracks, seams, pressure ridges, slushy areas and darker areas for these signify thinner ice.
  • Always tell family and friends where you are going and when you expect to be back – and stick to the plan.
  • Use the buddy system: NEVER go out on the ice alone. If you choose to go out on the ice alone, stay in an area where other people can see you.
  • Dress in bright colors; and wear an exposure suit that is waterproof and a personal floatation device. When the human body is immersed in cold water, an automatic reaction is for the person to take a deep breath, sucking in water. This accounts for many cold water deaths. The chances of locating a person in distress are increased when the individual wears bright clothing
  • Wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD). A PFD allows a person to float with a minimum of energy expended and allows the person to assume the heat escape lessening position – H.E.L.P.
  • Carry two ice picks or screwdrivers. If you fall through the ice you can use these items to get out. They are much more effective than using your hands.
  • Carry a whistle or noise-making device to alert people that you are in distress; or carry a cell phone and/or a VHF-FM radio to contact the nearest Coast Guard station in case you see someone in distress.
  • Hypothermia becomes the biggest danger after falling in through the ice. Hypothermia begins to set in quickly as the human body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees (35 degress C).

Properly preparing and taking extra precautions before heading out on the ice not only decreases the risk to you, but also to rescuers – including local first responders and the Coast Guard. Click here, here, and here for videos of ice rescue training conducted by Guardians in the Ninth District.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Clayton Franklin awaited his rescue by Petty Officer 2nd Class Roger Phelts during Ice Rescue Training at Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor, Feb. 27, 2008. Great Lakes Coast Guard is unique in the Coast Guard for it's Ice Rescue Program, brought about by the amount of people that venture out on the ice in the Great Lakes. (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class William Mitchell)

(File photo)  Ice Rescue Training at Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor. (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class William Mitchell)

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