The first real snowfall has hit us this winter, and that means it’s time to get out there and ride! On snowmobiles that is. Before you brave the winter cold, check out these safety tips to avoid accident and injury. While snowmobiling is exciting and provides a winter thrill, it can be dangerous as well. Understanding the risks and how to prevent accidents could save your life.
Safety Tips You Should Probably Know
Watch the weather and check trail conditions before riding
Always check the weather before going out. Just because the sky looks blue now, doesn’t mean it won’t snow later. Be sure to check all trail conditions and maps to avoid unexpected trail closures and getting lost.
Don’t drink alcohol and ride
9 out of 12 snowmobile deaths in Wisconsin in 2014/15 were alcohol related. We all know the dangers of drinking and driving, and drinking while operating a snowmobile is just as dangerous. Alcohol and drugs have a negative effect on the driver’s vision, balance, coordination, and reaction time. Don’t ride with people who drink and ride!
Never ride alone
Snowmobile safety can be achieved by always riding with a friend. If one machine is disabled, or an injury is sustained, you have another to get help.
Don’t get too close
Following too close to other riders could result in fatal injury if the driver falls off. It’s important to pay attention to the other riders in case someone falls, that way other rides can avoid accidentally hitting them.
Dress for safety & survival
It’s winter. That means it’s cold, even more so with the wind. It’s downright stupid to go snowmobiling without proper clothing. ALWAYS wear a quality DOT helmet and facemask. Wear layers of clothing to keep warm and dry. Snowmobile suits, bibs, jackets, gloves, and mittens should cut the wind, repel water, and keep you ventilated.
While it may look cool to drive fast, it’s extremely dangerous. High speeds can cause your snowmobile to flip over, make turns difficult, and avoid obstacles even harder. Excessive speed is a major factor in many accidents, especially at night. To ensure snowmobiling safety and to avoid accidents, keep your night time speed under 40 MPH.
Stay to the right
Almost every trail is a “two way” trail. So stay to the far right of the trail, especially on hills and corners. Obey all trail signs and cross roadways with extreme caution.
Stay on the trail or stay home
Trespassing is a major complaint and issue regarding snowmobiling. Always stay on designated snowmobile trails. Venturing off of trails can result in accidents, or trail closure. Only ride private property when you have landowner’s permission.
Riding on ice – lakes & rivers
It is safest to avoid riding on lakes and rivers. If you must ride on ice, wear a life jacket over your outer clothing. Stay on the marked trail and stay off of ice that has moving water (current) near or under it – ice in these areas may be thin and weak which can prevent snowmobiles safely crossing. Additionally, the shoreline can be very dangerous because of rocks and other debris.
Gear to Pack
You should pack a variety of safety gear with you on your snowmobile outing to ensure you’re properly prepared for changing conditions as well as unexpected challenges you may encounter.
Create a safety kit of personal items that includes your driver’s license, snowmobile safety certification card (if required by your jurisdiction), actual money (not just your debit card), critical medications, insurance forms for vehicle, a cell or satellite phone, water, high energy food, and any other items you deem important. This kit should be with you at all times.
Be sure to charge your cell or satellite phone before you begin your snowmobiling trip. Keep it stored in an inside coat pocket, and turned off to help preserve the battery life. Cell phones, and even satellite phones, may not work in some remote areas so don’t rely on a phone as your only safety device. Keeping a flare or radio would be good backups.
Always carry safety equipment on your snowmobile in case of an emergency. At a minimum, this should include a compass and map, waterproof matches with a candle or fire starter, a flashlight with spare batteries, a shovel, and an extra snowmobile ignition key.
A GPS (global positioning system) may be helpful in emergency situations and in case you get lost. As with any piece of technology, make sure your GPS is fully charged, and only use it when necessary.
A strobe light or flares may also be helpful in an emergency situation. Since strobes run on batteries, always bring extra and keep them warm so you can keep the strobe operational until emergency personnel arrive. If using flares, be sure to follow instructions to avoid injury. Additionally, like any other vehicle, snowmobiles can catch fire. Having a STOP-FYRE mini fire extinguisher can put out the fire and save any parts that could be temporally repaired in order to get back to your car or home until they can be replaced.
Snowmobile Tool Kit
Snowmobiles generally include a basic tool kit inside the hood or under the seat that includes a spark plug wrench, flat-head and Phillips-head screwdrivers, other wrenches for common adjustments, and a strap for emergency starting 2-stroke snowmobiles with a recoil start. These tools should always remain with the snowmobile.
Spare spark plugs and drive belt should be kept with the snowmobile at all times in the event of failure. You should also consider adding a knife, pliers/side cutters, adjustable wrench, electrical or duct tape, rags, bungee cords, and a tow rope to the basic tool kit to help perform general on-trail repairs, maintenance, and fire suppression.
Emergency First Aid Kit
An important part of snowmobile safety is a first aid kit that should always be carried with you on your trip. It should include a variety of items necessary to assist in an emergency. There are a number of good first aid kits available commercially that are compact enough to easily be carried on a snowmobile. Otherwise you can build your own custom kit that should include, but not be limited to bandages, 2-inch compresses, 4-inch compresses, a roll of 2-inch gauze, a roll of 1-inch adhesive tape, a thermal/space blanket, knife or scissors, alcohol wipes, and antibiotic ointment. All items should be stored in a waterproof container; do not include liquids that could freeze.
Take a Snowmobile Safety Training Course!
These courses are designed to teach you how to stay safe in operating and driving a snowmobile, as well as snowmobile laws and regulations.
Stay safe and have fun!
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