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I was talking to a friend from Michigan recently, and she mentioned how short the ice fishing season on her small lake was this year. This naturally led to the safety of ice-fishing, and how one might save oneself if the ice gave way.

I know that ice fishing is often a communal activity, and that often others are around. But how could one rescue oneself if no one was around? She mentioned a long pole, but was vague on how it would be used.

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    Wear a rope, tethered to a tree on the shore. The big danger (before you freeze or drown) is finding the clear water you fell through. Perhaps if the ice is thick, you can tether to a long pole laid across the fishing hole. Mar 16, 2023 at 23:14
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    Lots of good videos around, including those linked at lifesaving.com/ice-water-rescue/ice-safety-and-survival (no affiliation).
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 17, 2023 at 14:03
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    If there is a river flowing under the ice you might easily be carried away from the hole. I once fell through the ice on a river. Luckily it had a gravel bottom about 1m deep and I was still standing. It was difficult to get out, because every attempt to lift myself only broke more ice away. Another stroke of luck was someone saw me, and a long tree branch happened to be on the bank. He pushed the branch out towards me, and dragged me out so I was flat on the ice, and could get to the shore. By the time I walked home my outer clothes had frozen, and I had to thaw them before I could change. Mar 17, 2023 at 17:31
  • @WeatherVane Relying on the ice around the hole not breaking (to support the pole) to save you from ice breaking seems dicey.
    – chepner
    Mar 19, 2023 at 15:25

2 Answers 2

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If you fall through lake ice while your speed is low or zero, you probably can find the hole in the ice right away; so the first danger, of drowning, should not be a problem.

Whenever you go onto ice, you should have ice claws hanging around your neck, so you can get out again:

ice claws
Photo credit: Holger Ellgaard, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0

You should be able to buy ice claws in outdoor or fishing supplies stores in regions where ice fishing is a popular activity.

If you are in a remote place and the shore does not immediately provide access to a warm and dry place, you will additionally need:

  • A dry set of clothes to change into,
  • means to make a fire.

Someone I know fell through the ice while ice skating in Vistasvágge in northern Sweden. He was alone and was quite far from the nearest road or habitation (I think some hours by ice skates). He climbed out using his ice claws, went to the shore, made a fire, stripped naked, dried himself, put on his set of dry clothes, and then returned to civilisation (I don't know if he skated back or walked back). He didn't see any other people while out skating that day.

Ice fishing should be safer. Probably, in many cases, people ice fishing are close to a home or a car when they get back to the shore. In this case, there may be no need to make a fire.

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In addition to the ice claws, I recently attended an ice fishing seminar where the presenter highly recommended wearing a windproof and insulated fishing suit with built in flotation. He said having the built-in flotation can be a real lifesaver, as you won't need to focus or drain energy as much on on trying to stay afloat, and can concentrate on getting out of the water.

Good flotation suits aren't cheap, but the peace of mind and the safety factor makes them well worth the expense.

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    Safety equipment in general is not cheap, particularly because you buy it with the intention to not use it. That's why many people save on it, or on it's maintenance. On the other hand, it is there to save your life, which is priceless.
    – PMF
    Mar 20, 2023 at 8:29

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