Ice Fishing Safety

Ice Fishing Safety

As the days get longer and warmth returns to the sun, ice fishing becomes a popular way to spend time in the outdoors, as well as add some fresh fish to your skillet. Before venturing to the ice, here are some safety tips to help keep you safe and dry.

Follow these guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources when crossing the ice:

    • Avoid Ice 4 inches or less
    • Walking, 4 inches
    • Snowmobiles/ATVs, 5 inches
    • Cars and light trucks, 8-12 inches
    • Medium trucks, 12-15 inches

*Remember: White ice is not as strong as clear ice and thicknesses should be doubled when accessing white ice.

Before heading out onto the ice, check with local bait shops and other establishments to ask about ice conditions. Check the ice thickness at least every 150 feet. Remember that ice thickness will vary across the lake and can change quickly. Use an ice chisel, ice auger, or cordless drill with a larger bit to create a hole to measure the ice thickness.

When driving on ice, be prepared to leave your vehicle quickly by keeping the windows down. Wear life vests under winter gear or flotation snowmobile suits. If your vehicle does break through the ice, try to escape through the side windows as the door may be held shut by water pressure. If the windows are blocked, push the windshield or rear window out with your feet or shoulder. A car or truck will sink at a steep angle and will sometimes land on its roof. As the car sinks, water quickly pushed the air out and it is unlikely that there will be an air pocket by the time the car reaches the bottom. Once the car reaches the bottom and is completely filled, the doors may be easier to open unless blocked by mud and silt.


If you do fall through the ice, do not remove your winter clothing. The clothes will seem heavy and you may think they will drag you down, however, they can trap air to provide flotation and create an insulating layer to trap body heat. Turn toward the direction you came as it is probably the thickest ice. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface and kick your feet and dig in with ice picks or pull yourself up out of the water.

If your clothes are holding a lot of water, you might need to partially lift out of the water and let the water drain before trying to exit the hole. Once out, lie flat on the ice and try to keep your weight spread out. Roll away from the hole. Find a warm, dry, sheltered area to rewarm immediately. If you are suffering from moderate to severe cases of hypothermia, seek medical attention. As cold blood rushes back to your heart, it can cause ventricular fibrillation and lead to a heart attack and death.

What should you do if you see someone fall in?

Call 911 immediately for help. Do not run to the edge of the hole to try to help. This might result in more than one victim. Also, do not risk your life to save a pet or other animal.

Utilize the Preach, Reach, Throw, Row, Go:

  • Preach – Shout to the victim to encourage them to fight to survive and reassure them that help is on the way.
  • Reach – If you can safely reach the victim from shore, extend an object such as a rope, ladder, or jumper cables to the victim. If the person starts to pull you in, release your grip on the object and start over.
  • Throw – Toss one end of the rope or something that will float to the victim. Have them tie the rope around themselves before they are too weakened by the cold to grasp it.
  • Row – Find a light boat to push across the ice ahead of you. Push it to the edge of the hole, get into the boat and pull the victim over the bow.
  • Go – A non-professional should not go out on the ice to perform a rescue unless all other basic rescue techniques have been ruled out.

Prepare properly and follow these tips to avoid an ice-related tragedy.

Stay safe and have fun!