Coast Guard warns of unstable ice as warmer weather approaches

Members of Coast Guard response crews from throughout the Great Lakes region, including Air Stations Detroit and Traverse City, participate in Ice Rescue Training and a Ready For Operations Course held at Coast Guard Station Portage, Mich., which included the use of a MARSARS board (Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Casey McDonald)DETROIT — With the forecasted rain, wind and above-freezing temperatures this weekend, the Coast Guard is urging people to use extreme caution when venturing onto the ice across the Great Lakes.

The above freezing temperatures are melting and weakening ice and pose safety concerns for anyone venturing onto ice.

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 indicate 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.

Additionally, the Coast Guard closes three waterway areas to maritime vessel traffic to allow for the formation of ice bridges to Mackinac Island, Bois Blanc Island and Beaver Island. Historically those seasonal ice bridges are used for transportation, but this year the Coast Guard urges citizens that the ice bridges are not safe.

“Do not assume since ice was safe in years past, that it is safe now,” said Lt. Ben Chamberlain, a member of the Coast Guard Sector Detroit Command Center. “This year the Great Lakes ice coverage is significantly less than the prior two winters.”

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 lake temperature. A life jacket allows a person to float with minimum energy expenditure 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.
  • 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.

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 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 themselves out of the water. Severe hypothermia will 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.

Cold water drowning and water safety information:

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