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Video: Crossing Frozen Bodies of Water

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Video Transcript



All right. Frozen bodies of water are unavoidable in some areas, and we’ll need to consider the best way to get from here to there. And it can be dangerous, but do you know why? Is it because all ice is unsafe, we might break through, we can’t swim well in our gear and could drown, getting wet can cause hypothermia, or all of the above? The correct answer is all of the above. You see, crossing ice is always potentially dangerous. So how do we recognize and minimize the potential dangers to keep ourselves safe out there? Here are some basic rules to follow.

From a high place, look for dark spots on the ice. That could be slushy or bad ice, so don’t cross it. Look for rivulets on the ice or streams flowing under it. River ice is unpredictable and weaker than lake ice. Are there other people or machines on the ice? Never cross alone. If we’re unsure, walk first to scout. Avoid crossing in close single file because if the single file leader falls through, others may follow. We stagger ourselves instead and keep a safe distance of about 100 feet or so behind each other.

No matter how safe it looks, crossing the ice is never completely safe. So you need to know how to get out if you break through. If it happens, don’t panic. Keeping your gear and gloves on, swim to the edge, and break off any loose or thin ice. Stretch your forearms across the ice and kick hard while you pull yourself up, and move away from the edge. If you are equipped with ice picks, use them to help pull yourself out. And once you’re on solid ice, roll to a safer spot, then attempt to stand. Then get to shelter, warmth, and dry clothes immediately. As you can imagine, stopping on ice takes longer, so keep your speed low enough so you can stop by just releasing the throttle. If you have to use your brakes, lightly depress the lever to avoid locking up the track.


Whoo! This looks like a great place to ice fish. Let’s go get our gear and go!


  • Ice presents many of the same handling problems as riding on pavement. Also, spins are common and fast stops are impossible.
  • Maintain a slow, steady speed. Don't speed up or apply the brakes abruptly.
  • To stop safely, release the throttle and coast to a stop.

Frozen Bodies of Water

Riding on the frozen surface of water should be avoided due to the risk of death from falling into freezing water. If you cannot avoid it and must cross frozen water:

  • Scout ahead.
    • Go to as high an area of elevation above the lake as possible and use binoculars to look for dark spots on the ice. This indicates slush, water, or deteriorating ice. Do not attempt to cross this ice.
    • Watch for rivulets flowing on the ice or streams flowing under it. Even when the surface looks solid, a current under the ice causes erosion from below. Ice over a flowing river is at least 15% weaker than ice over a lake.
  • Wear a brightly colored inflatable personal flotation device (life jacket) on the outside of your snowmobile jacket.
  • If you're in a group, avoid crossing in single file. If the group leader falls through, riders in single file may not be able to stop or maneuver the snowmobile quickly enough to keep from following the leader through the ice.