Coast Guard advises mariners to exercise caution when recreating on frozen lakes, ponds and rivers

Rear Adm. Peter V. Neffenger uses ice picks to assist him as he pulls himself out of the water as part of ice rescue training at the Ice Capabilities Center of Excellence at Coast Guard Station Saginaw River, Mich. US Coast Guard Photo by Seamen Jason Kellogg.

USCG File Photo

CLEVELAND – The Ninth Coast Guard District reminds the Great Lakes public to use extra precautions when planning recreational activities on frozen ponds, streams, rivers and lakes – ice can be unpredictable and dangerous.

Ice is an ever-changing surface and the fluctuating weather conditions greatly affect the ice’s stability.

The Coast Guard rescued two people this morning in Little Sturgeon Bay, Wis. Click here to read more about that search and rescue case.

In an effort to prevent, prepare and educate those who recreate on the ice, the Coast Guard would like to encourage people to remember the following tips.

I – Intelligence: check the weather and ice conditions, know where you are going, and know how to call for help/assistance.
C – Clothing: wear the proper anti-exposure clothes with multiple layers. If possible, wear a dry suit to prevent hypothermia, which can occur within minutes after falling through the ice.
E – Equipment: have the proper equipment such as a marine band radio, life jackets and screw drivers.

While the Coast Guard understands winter recreation on the ice around the Great Lakes is a tradition, it is important to take safety measures such as:

  • Use the buddy system: NEVER go out on the ice alone.
  • Dress in bright colors; and wear an anti-exposure suit that is waterproof, including a personal flotation device. A PFD allows a person to float with a minimum amount of energy expended and allows the person to assume the heat escape lessening position (H.E.L.P.) – bringing the knees close to the chest and holding them in place by wrapping the arms around the shin portions of the legs.
  • Carry two ice picks or screwdrivers for self-rescue. They are much more effective than using your hands.
  • Carry a whistle or noise-making device to alert people that you are in distress.
  • Don’t rely on cellular phones to communicate distress; VHF-FM radios are much more reliable.
  • Stay away from cracks, seams, pressure ridges and slushy areas, which signify thinner ice.

Because Great Lakes ice is dangerous and unpredictable, the threat of hypothermia is always present with a potential fall through the ice. Hypothermia begins to set in quickly as the human body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 C).

To treat hypothermia, handle the victim gently, get them indoors and remove clothing, then dry the victim promptly and wrap in blankets. Lastly, transfer the victim to rescue and/or medical authorities immediately.

However, AVOID the following actions with hypothermia:

  • NEVER rub or massage the extremities.
  • NEVER give alcohol or caffeinated products
  • NEVER apply ice
  • NEVER apply external heat sources directly to the skin
  • NEVER allow the person to smoke
  • NEVER allow the person to walk upon rescue until cleared to do so by a medical professional

The Coast Guard would like everyone to take an active part to enhance their chances for rescue and survival with a commitment to safety this year and beyond.

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