Ice fishing is innately dangerous and if an angler is not really prepared for that, it can end in a tragedy. That’s why you need to be prepared for ice fishing. You have to know what to do, and what to bring with you to keep yourself safe in and outside an emergency situation.

Most people who go ice fishing already know about the proper precautions. After all, those precautions are few. They are based on many years of collective experience, and their value is so great that people pay with their health and lives for neglecting them. That is why if you want to go ice fishing, you have to know all of the precautions rules by heart. Preparation is key to safety.

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There are several risks ice fishing poses. Not all of them are something you would have thought of.

Non-Emergency Scenario

First, you can suffer hypothermia when fishing without falling into the water. Yes, ice fishing is dangerous even if nothing happens and the ice is hard and stable. That’s why it’s a hazard easy to overlook, and that makes it more dangerous.

You can also suffer frostbites and other unpleasant consequences of cold air exposure. 

The worst thing you can do in that situation is drinking alcohol. It will worsen the symptoms of hyperthermia while making you feel like you’re warm when you’re actually not. Using an ice shelter is a much better idea.

Second, ice is slippery. When someone slips and falls, they can suffer from bruises, hematomas, sprains, broken bones and concussion. You need to be cautious to avoid that, although ice gear can help to eliminate even the most remote possibility.

Emergency Scenario

When the ice breaks under you, that surely means trouble. That said, the ice breaking is not dangerous by itself. It’s what follows next is dangerous.

The true danger is finding yourself in the ice cold water. Even so, it can be more or less dangerous depending on the exact situation.

If you find yourself knee-deep in the water, you’re obviously not going to drown unless you’re very unlucky. But the risk of getting hypothermia increases exponentially, more so the more time you spend in the water, and it’s potentially lethal if it takes you too long to reach the shore or get back on the ice.

If the water is deeper than that, getting out of it can be more difficult, and the situation becomes even more grievous because your limbs are going to get numb in a matter of minutes. Actually, make it a dozen seconds or so.

If the water is even deeper, you can drown right where you’ve fallen into the water. You want to get out even faster.

Finally, if it’s a river and there’s a stream, it’s even worse than you thought. The stream can drag you under the ice. It is a situation you want to avoid at all costs. A powerful current makes falling into the water very dangerous even if the water is not too deep.


Make sure it’s thick

You can tell if the ice is safe and durable if it is transparent. Remember, it should be thicker than a couple of inches. If it’s less, it’s dangerous, and even 2” is cutting it short. Get off that ice if it’s just two inches thick. You want 4 inches to be really safe when fishing.

White ice is weak

It’s hard to evaluate its thickness, and it’s twice as weak as transparent ice. If it’s covered with snow, it’s even weaker, and the snow creates additional pressure that’s going to weaken the ice.

Thaws make ice thinner

If there was warm weather a day or two before, perhaps you should abandon the idea of going ice fishing for a while. A thaw can make the ice thin, especially if it’s powdered with snow.

Ice holes undermine the strength of ice

The more ice holes other people have drilled, the less safe the ice is. If you don’t see any, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It’s quite possible for snowstorm to cover them.

Avoid Unmoving Objects protruding from under the ice

Piles, trees, and reeds sticking through the ice make it very dangerous in their immediate vicinity. So are rocks and everything else that protrudes through the ice.

Avoid Moving Water and Narrow Spaces

Ice forming above current is weaker, and the more so the stronger the current. Liquids accelerate in narrows spaces, and that’s why you should also avoid going under bridges, over stream pools, and between islands that are close to each other. Ice is often dangerous in those places even in the middle of winter.

Avoid underwater springs

Basically, it’s a current directed upwards. The water is sometimes warmer than the rest of the water. As you can guess, an underwater spring can melt most of the ice away. It makes the ice incredibly dangerous.

Avoid the mouths of rivers and streams

Ice is often unreliable there, no matter how cold it is outside.

Avoid deep places

You should avoid deep places, and not for the reason one can drown there, no. It just takes a while for ice to form above great depths. Therefore, it is less durable, which means it is dangerous.

Don’t assume it’s safe

Even if you think that every sign is telling you the ice is safe, it doesn’t mean it is. Ice is unpredictable. It can be thicker near the shore. Or thinner. Or non-existent.

Always treat the ice like it’s thin and can break.

Backtrack if on thin ice

Never tread on thin ice that is obviously not strong enough to support your weight and then some. If you hit thin ice accidentally, backtrack with cautious gliding steps, without taking your feet off the ice. Do not proceed forward.

You can tell that the ice is too thin if it’s making creaking sounds without visible cracks.

Backtracking is not always possible

A water body is a dynamic system, even if it’s frozen. If you’ve been on the ice for hours, it can become thinner in places you’ve passed safely, and you’ll have to look for another route.

Also, an ice floe can even break away with you fishing, and that won’t leave you with many options.

Lie down if the ice is about to break

If the ice is suddenly cracking, keep your cool. Be calm, do not panic. Swiftly and gently lie down and crawl to a safer place.

Don’t fish alone

Do not go ice fishing alone. Bring a friend or two. Also, when fishing in a company, don’t stand next to each other and don’t tread ice together. Keep your distance, don’t get closer than 6 feet. It’s also best not to follow each other steps.

Test the ice

When on the move, test the ice with a ski pole. If you can punch through the ice in one go, it’s too weak.

At the same time, testing the ice by kicking it is a terrible idea. Don’t ever do that.

Don’t wear your backpacks over both shoulders when on ice

Carry backpacks and anything you need to carry over a single shoulder. You’ll need to lose that quickly if you break through the ice.

Detach Ski Bindings 

When crossing the ice on skis, you should detach the ski bindings and remove the loops of ski poles from the hands. They, too, are something that you need to lose quickly in the event of an emergency.

Ice cleats may be dangerous

Ice cleats are perfect for stopping you from slipping and falling, but then also can damage thin ice.

Use a rope and a pole to cross dangerous places

If you can’t avoid going through a dangerous place (like if you’re evacuating from an icefield about to break off), do it one by one.

Tie yourself with a rope around your waist and bring a long pole with you, holding it across your body. A partner of yours must stand near the loose end of the rope or, better yet, hold it. Once there’s only one person left behind, they should also tie themselves with the rope, and someone who’s already passed through the dangerous spot should hold the other end.

Ice floes turn over

Don’t step on ice floes that have broken off, even for a second. They are not stable and may turn over. It’s way more dangerous than just breaking through the ice.

Getting out of the water

Even if you’ve taken every single precaution, you or your friend can still fall into the water. You need to know how to deal with that situation.

Keep your head above the water

Widely spread your hands holding onto the edges of the ice, so as not to let your head submerge.

Stay away from the current

If possible, move to the edge of the ice hole where the current is not dragging you under the ice.

Don’t try to pull yourself up

If you are in the water, do not try to get back on the ice using only your hands. Grab on the ice edge for leverage only and throw your leg over the edge back on the ice. After that, get your other leg back on the ice and crawl or roll away from the hole.

That may be impossible, though. In that case, try to crawl out of the ice hole with your chest and arms, spreading your legs wide.

Helping someone out of the water

Let the victim know you’re coming

If you saw someone falling through the ice, shout to them that you are going to help. They won’t have to waste their breath calling for help, and it will also make them less panicky.

Lie down

Lie down and approach the hole by crawling, arms spread wide. You can spread the pressure even more by using plywood, skis or boards. They will distribute your pressure over a larger area.

Don’t approach too close

No giving a hand, not literally, at least. If there’s no rope, give the victim a belt, scarf, stick, the grip end of an ice pick or ice auger. They will give you a longer reach, so you won’t have to get too close to help, and you will be able to get a better hold.

Creeping up to the very edge of the ice hole is a sure way to find yourself in the water as well.

The safe distance is about 10 feet.

Hold each other’s feet

if you have more company, lie down on the ice, take each other by the feet and move towards the break in a chain/

Remember the time

Act fast and bold. The wet clothes will pull the victim down, and they will be unable to grab onto anything in a very brief period of time.

Get away from danger

After throwing something to the victim, pull them out of the water onto the ice and crawl away from the dangerous area.

First Aid


When slipping and falling, a person can suffer from bruises and hematomas, sprains and broken bones, and concussion.

Treating bruises is easy. You need to press something cold to the bruise, and since you’re ice fishing, you’re going to have plenty of cold things to apply.

Sprains and broken bones are more tricky. The best thing that you can do is to immobilize the injured limb and seek professional medical attention.

Concussions are the worst. I recommend that you secure the victim’s head to prevent them from inhaling the vomit, and then seek professional medical attention immediately. 


The nose, ears, hands, and feet are the most susceptible to cold, especially the fingers. Frostbite may occur as a result of long-term low-temperature exposure, so ice fishing is definitely a risk.

You can treat frostbite by rewarming the affected area, but something as serious as second-degree frostbite warrants professional medical attention.

If you have a first-degree frostbite, you should not try to rewarm the affected area with a stove any similar source of heat. Use warm water instead.



If the victim inhales the water, their life is in immediate danger.

You need to clear their mouth and lungs first. Get them over your thigh so that their stomach rests on it and their head hangs down to the ground. Press on their chest and back to remove the water from the stomach and lungs.

Once there’s no more water coming out, start performing mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-nose resuscitation, combined with cardiac massage if necessary.

After the victim is revived, proceed to the other steps.

Deal with the clothing

Remove the wet clothes from the victim and put some dry clothes on them. If no other clothes are available, squeeze the wet clothes as hard as you can and put them back on the victim.

Wrap the victim with polyethylene, neoprene or any non-breathable fabric to induce the greenhouse effect.

Rewarm the victim

Get the victim to a heated area as quickly as possible. A house or room is best, but an ice shelter is also fine. Make the victim drink something hot.

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