How to stay safe when ice fishing

Even if you have checked the ice carefully to ensure a safe ice fishing trip, danger can still arise at any time. This is why it is important to be prepared, bring safety gear and know what to do in case of an emergency.

Preparation for ice fishing

Check the ice carefully. Before going out on a frozen body of water, carefully check the ice to make sure it is safe. You can determine the strength and safety of ice by its appearance, thickness and other factors. Clear or blue ice at least 4 inches thick is required for safe ice fishing. Check out my guide on how to determine if the ice is safe enough to ice fish learn to weigh all the factors that contribute to the integrity of the ice on a body of water.

Talk to a local source about the quality of ice on local water bodies. The ice varies from one body of water to another. Local bait shops and fishing guides can give you some insight into the conditions you plan to ice fish in.

Tell someone where you are going. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. If something does happen, sharing your plan with a responsible adult can save your life.

Spread. When you are in a group, avoid walking in single file and spread out when fishing to avoid putting too much pressure on one point and to better distribute the weight.

Don’t go alone. It is safer to go with a group or partner rather than alone. If something happens or there is an emergency, someone can call for help and take other actions to save lives.

Dress in layers. When you go out in freezing weather, it’s a good idea to dress in layers. Your base layer should consist of a layer that wicks sweat and retains heat. Your mid-layer should consist of fleece or wool clothing. Your outer layer should be insulated, windproof and waterproof. Always make sure your head and hands are covered. Wear two layers of socks – thin, moisture-wicking polyester socks under woolen socks. Wear insulated waterproof boots. Always cover your head, neck and hands. Avoid wearing cotton.

Always bring safety equipment. Always bring a safety kit and personal safety equipment when you go ice fishing. Ice fishing safety equipment includes the following:

  • Mobile phone or radio
  • Dry clothes, gloves and boots
  • hand warmers
  • 5 gallon sled/bucket
  • Floating rescue rope
  • Tape measure
  • Crampons/studs
  • Ice picks
  • Ice chisel or auger
  • Floating suit or life jacket
  • Whistle
  • First aid kit

Respond to an emergency

If you fall through the ice:

  1. Do not panic.
  2. Do not remove your clothes. Heavy clothing traps air and provides warmth and buoyancy rather than dragging you down.
  3. Face the direction you came from before attempting to climb. The direction you are coming from probably has the strongest ice to support your weight when trying to climb.
  4. Drive your ice picks into the ice with your arms outstretched as you kick your feet and pull yourself across the surface of the ice sliding forward.
  5. Don’t get up once off the ice. Instead, stay away from weak ice. Rolling on the ice will help distribute your weight evenly and prevent you from crossing the ice again.
  6. Seek shelter, warmth, dry clothing, and hot, non-alcoholic, caffeine-free beverages.
  7. Seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, shiver uncontrollably, or have any other symptoms of hypothermia.

If someone you’re with falls through the ice:

  1. PREACH – Shout out to the person who fell through to encourage them to fight to survive and reassure them that help is on the way.
  2. TO REACH – If you can safely reach the victim from the shore, use a rope, ladder or jumper cables to reach them. If they begin to attract you, release the object and start over.
  3. TO THROW – Throw one end of a rope something that will float to the victim. Have them tie it around themselves before they get too weak from the cold to grab it.
  4. LINE – Find a light boat to cross the ice in front of you. Push it to the edge of the hole, get into the boat and try to pull the victim over the bow. Tie the rope to the boat, so others can help get you and the victim to safety.
  5. 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.


Hypothermia is a life-threatening drop in core body temperature.


  • Loss of coordination and manual dexterity
  • Feeling disoriented or confused
  • Feeling tired
  • Memory loss
  • Speech disorders
  • Chills or uncontrollable tremors

Water extracts heat from the body 25 times faster than air. Once a person who has fallen through the ice is out of the water, they should seek shelter, warmth, dry clothing, and hot, non-alcoholic, caffeine-free beverages immediately. Alcohol should never be given as a means of warming up because alcohol dilates blood vessels allowing cold blood from the extremities to move to the heart. The trunk area of ​​the body should be warmed up first in people with acute hypothermia. Simply covering a person with acute hypothermia with a blanket will not generate heat, as the trunk area will need to be actively heated. As the trunk warms up, the limbs may also begin to warm up.

If symptoms do not seem to resolve or continue to worsen, seek medical attention immediately.

Related content



All agricultural news in your inbox!

About Patricia Kilgore

Check Also

Rob Phillips: Columbia fish numbers strong, supported by shad and sockeye salmon | Outdoors and leisure

The folks who oversee fish counting procedures at dams on the lower Columbia River have …