Coast Guard continues to caution Great Lakes citizens, visitors of the dangers of weakening ice

Essexville, Mich. - Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jason Betzing waits for a fellow Coast Guardsman to rescue him from a hole in the ice-covered Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron during ice rescue training Jan. 25, 2011. The training is part of a four-day school where Coast Guard men and women come to the Ice Capabilities Center of Excellence at Station Saginaw River in Essexville, Mich., to learn the proper techniques for rescuing people on ice-covered bodies of water. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Jorgensen)

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Office Lauren Jorgensen

CLEVELAND – The U.S. Coast Guard is cautioning those who choose to recreate on ice-covered waterways in the Great Lakes region that warmer weather expected this week and coming weekend may accelerate melting of ice fields, resulting in dangerous conditions.

Prior to going on or near any ice-covered waterways, people should check local weather forecasts and the National Weather Service’s Marine Forecasts:

The Coast Guard and other U.S. and Canadian response agencies on the Great Lakes have responded to about 40 reports of people in danger or distress on frozen waterways in the region.  Rescue crews have saved 10 lives and assisted 63 others.  Five lives have been lost since the beginning of fiscal year 2011.

Besides the risk of people breaking through the ice, warmer air and water temperatures and high winds increase the chances that ice floes develop and break free.  These drifting sheets of ice have been known to trap people, carrying them further offshore.

Click here to read about a 2009 rescue of more than 100 people trapped on an ice floe.
Click here for footage of the rescue.

Great Lakes ice is unpredictable and dangerous, especially during seasonal temperature transitions.

If you decide to go on the ice, the following safety precautions are recommended:

  • Consider the weather.  Warmer temperatures may weaken the ice and strong winds may break the ice;
  • Never go out on the ice alone;
  • Don’t rely on cellular phones to communicate distress – VHF-FM radios are much more reliable in the maritime environment.  If trouble arises, call for help on FM Channel 16, the international hailing and distress frequency;
  • Carry a whistle or other sound-producing device to alert people you are in distress;
  • Carry a flashlight or flares to signal for help;
  • Dress in layers and bright colors and wear an anti-exposure suit with a personal flotation device;
  • Ensure you notify a trusted family member or friend of where you will go on the ice, your destination, who is with you, and when you will return;
  • Carry some type of “ice awls” – ice picks or screwdrivers – that can be used as spikes to pull yourself up if you break through the ice;
  • Stay away from cracks, seams, pressure ridges and slushy areas, which signify thinner ice;

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