Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan — With the forecast rain, wind and above-freezing temperatures this weekend, the Coast Guard is urging people to use extreme caution when venturing onto the ice across Lake Superior, St. Marys River, and the northern parts of lakes Michigan and Huron.
The Coast Guard is also increasing its ice breaking operations in preparation for the upcoming maritime shipping season, which will further diminish existing ice, especially along the St. Marys River.
Ice is unpredictable and the thickness can vary, even in small areas. Water currents, particularly around narrow spots, bridges, inlets and outlets, are always suspect for thin ice. Stay away from cracks, seams, pressure ridges, slushy areas and darker areas since these signify thinner ice.
Obstructions such as rocks, logs, vegetation and pilings affect the strength of ice. Heat from these obstructions slows ice formation. Ice shifting and expanding can create pressure cracks and ridges around the obstructions.
Plus, ice near the shore of a frozen lake may be unsafe and weaker because of shifting, expansion, and sunlight reflecting off the bottom.
The Coast Guard offers these cold water and ice safety tips:
Remember the acronym ICE, which stands for Information, Clothing and Equipment. To stay safe on the ice, get the right information about conditions and weather, wear appropriate clothing, and don’t leave home without the right equipment to stay alive.
Always wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket, and dress for the water temperature. A life jacket allows a person to float with minimum energy expenditure and allows the person to assume the Heat Escape Lessening Position – bringing the knees close to the chest and holding them in place by wrapping the arms around the shin portions of the legs.
Never go out on the water alone. Use the buddy system.
Always check and monitor the marine weather forecast before and during any trip out onto the lakes.
Carry a registered personal locator beacon in addition to a marine radio to alert the Coast Guard and local safety agencies of potential distress. Consider a waterproof hand-held model that can be worn.
Carry all required and recommended safety gear, such as visual distress signals and a sound-producing device. Carry your visual distress signal and whistle in the pocket of your life jacket so they’re close at hand in an emergency.
Remember the 1-10-1 principle: 1 minute – 10 minutes – 1 hour
Everyone who enters cold water doesn’t drown, but research shows that many drowning incidents may be the result of cold shock response and cold incapacitation. In cold water drowning situations, if you survive the first minute, the cold will soon rob your muscles of their strength and dexterity. Even strong swimmers can experience swim failure after a few minutes.
When a cold water drowning situation begins, a person has about one minute to gain control of their breathing and 10 minutes or less of meaningful movement and muscle control to get out of the water. Severe hypothermia may set in within one hour, but without a life jacket, the victim is likely to drown before that occurs.
Cold Water Kills
The Coast Guard and water safety experts say public education and preparedness may help prevent cold water drowning deaths. In addition to understanding the physiological effects of cold water, people need to be aware that the initial shock of entering the cold water can cause panic and gasping, resulting in a person inhaling large amounts of water.
The public is advised to call 911 to report a person who has fallen through the ice or who is in distress in icy waters.