As the lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers, throughout Massachusetts, freeze during winter months, residents may be eager to start skating, playing hockey, ice fishing, and enjoying other winter activities. However, frozen bodies of water can be dangerous.

Generally, ice that forms on moving water (rivers, streams, and brooks) is never safe. Ice freezes and thaws at different rates and the thickness of ice on ponds and lakes can vary depending on water currents, springs, depth, and natural objects such as tree stumps or rocks. It can be a foot thick in one area and just inches thick a few feet away. Daily changes in temperature also affect its strength. Because of these factors, no one can declare the ice to be absolutely safe. The only “safe” ice is at a skating arena.

Before Going Onto Ice

  • Look for slush, which can indicate that the ice is no longer freezing so you face a greater risk of falling through.
  • Beware of snow-covered ice. Snow can hide weak and open ice or cracks.
  • Test the ice strength. Use an ice chisel to chip a hole through the ice to determine its thickness and condition. If it is two inches thick or less, stay off.
  • Never go on ice alone. Another person may be able to rescue you or go for help if you fall through.
  • Keep pets on a leash when walking them near bodies of water so that they don’t run onto the ice.

If Someone Falls Through the Ice

  • Do not go out onto the ice to try to rescue a person or pet.
  • Reach-Throw-Go:
    • Try to reach the victim from shore. Extend your reach with a branch, oar, pole, or ladder to try to pull the victim to safety.
    • If unable to reach the victim, throw them something to hold onto (such as a rope, jumper cables, tree branch, or life preserver).
    • Go for help or call 911 immediately.
  • If you fall in, use cold water safety practices:
    • Try not to panic.
    • Turn toward the direction you came from and place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface, moving forward by kicking your feet.
    • Once back onto unbroken ice, remain lying down and roll away from the hole.
    • Crawl back toward land, keeping your weight evenly distributed.
  • If you can’t get back on the ice, use the Heat Escape Lessening Position (HELP):
    • Bring your knees up toward your chest.
    • Cross your arms and hold them close to your body.
    • Keep your legs together.
    • Try to keep your head out of the water.
    • Do not try to swim unless a boat, floating object, or shore is close by. Swimming in cold water cools your body and reduces survival time.

Helping a Victim When Out of the Water

  • Get medical help or call 911 immediately. The victim needs help quickly to prevent hypothermia.
  • Get the victim to a warm location.
  • Remove the victim’s wet clothing.
  • Warm the center of the victim’s body first by wrapping them in blankets or putting on dry clothing.
  • Give the victim warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids to drink.
  • Place the victim in a warm shower or bath with their arms and legs out of the water to warm the core of the body.