How To Survive Thin Ice


When winter begins in areas with lots of rivers and lakes, ice becomes a common phenomenon. The frozen water opens opportunities for various winter activities like skiing, snowball fights, and sledding.

This is the best time to prepare for a winter camping trip and if you love going on fishing expeditions and know how to ice fish, you’ve got yourself the perfect time for reeling in some monster walleyes and northern pikes.

However, unless the ice on which you will be stepping is thick enough to support your weight, you risk falling through ice into the cold water beneath. And if this happens and you don’t know how to rescue yourself, you might succumb to cold shock or hypothermia. The secret to surviving falling through the frozen water is staying calm and heeding the life-saving tips discussed in this article.

How To Avoid Falling Through Thin Ice

1. Stay Away From Thin Ice

The best way to survive falling through thin ice is to avoid the thin ice in the first place. Be on the lookout for pressure cracks, beaver dams, running water, springs, depressions, and another area where ice doesn’t freeze thick enough.

Keeping out of these areas will help you stay dry, which is needed for you to keep warm. The safest thickness will be anything above five inches, so if you are serious about taking your adventures to the frozen waters make sure that whatever surface you step onto is nothing less than this thickness.

2. Bring The Right Gear

When backpacking, your biggest worry is space. You want everything you need for the trip to fit in your backpack. But if you will be heading to snowy areas, you may want to create enough room for life-saving equipment.

One of the gear pieces you shouldn’t leave behind is a rope. If you or a member of your crew falls through the ice, you will be able to pull them out of the cold water. A whistle will also be an important safety tool for the day. You may need to call for help and yelling may not be as effective.

3. Tell Someone About Your Plans

Whenever you head out to the wilderness, it is wise to let others know where you are going and what activities you intend to undertake. And if you are planning on navigating icy areas where there are more life-threatening elements, make sure that at least one member of your family is aware of your plans.

Mention the specific spot you will be adventuring as well as when you plan to leave and return. That way, in case something happens and you are not able to make it home within the stated date, the individual can notify an emergency service or even better, come look for you.

4. Bring Someone

Hiking, backpacking, or camping in winter is one of those activities you don’t want to do alone. There are so many dangers that can present themselves out there and without someone to provide help, things can get pretty ugly.

In addition to sharing your plans with others, have someone accompany you on your trip. This will make a big difference in surviving falling through ice, as you will have someone to pull you free.

What To Do If The Ice Breaks


If you were busy having the time of your life and all of a sudden the ice breaks, keep calm and don’t panic. If you haven’t sunk yet, signal your buddies and try as much as you can not make any rigorous movements as these can make the situation worse.

It would be best to have your whistle nearby if none of your friends is around. This will be the safest way to signal for help and if your friends get to you on time, they will be able to pull you out before the ice cracks completely and sends you to the bottom.

What To Do If You Fall Through Thin Ice

The biggest challenge you might have when you sink through ice is fighting the urge to scream. Instead, try to get out of the water as soon as possible because if you don’t, you may not be able to do it later after your body is completely frozen. Ideally, this is what to do if you fall through the ice:

5. Be Emotionally And Mentally Prepared

When you realize you are sinking into the cold water, avoid the reflex to gasp for air. What happens is that when your body comes into contact with cold water, it goes into a state of shock, increasing your heart rate and breathing. This makes you want to take deep breaths but you must avoid as much as you can to do it, especially if you are completely submerged. The initial shock will go away after two to three minutes when your body gets used to the cold.

However, this doesn’t mean you are out of danger – you are still at risk of developing hypothermia. Remember, your body is losing heat faster than it is producing and the more you spend more time underneath, the more you increase your chances of triggering this potentially fatal condition.

6. Keep Calm

You must agree; being immersed in ice-cold water is painful, both physically and emotionally. This combined with adrenaline release, high blood pressure, and increased breathing and heart rates can easily get you panicking. But if you stay calm and control your breathing, you will be able to think better and figure out a plan to pull yourself out of the cold water.

Hypothermia will occur when the temperature of your body goes below 95˚F but getting there sometimes takes time and depends on several factors. If you can manage to keep your head and a good part of your body above the water, you will buy yourself more time.

Depending on how well you have layered up, the amount of fat in your body, ad how windy the area is, you can last between 15 minutes to an hour before developing hypothermia and getting unconscious. This is one of those moments when a dry suit can be your best friend in keeping you dry and alive.

If you had your skates, skis, or backpack on when the ice broke, remove these immediately as they can weigh you down and increase your risk of drowning. If you are going to survive falling through ice, then you must do whatever you can not to drown.

7. Focus On Getting Out

If your head is out of the water and you have already calmed yourself down, try to get out quickly instead of just staying there and waiting for help. The more you stay in the water, the shorter your survival time gets. Find a way to get back to where you sank from, as the ice edges could still be strong enough to support you to get out.

In everything you do from the time you fall through the ice to when you finally get your head above the water, remember that time is of the essence. You will only have five minutes to carry out your survival plan before your body gets completely frozen and your muscles lose coordination. Think and act fast because once the cold water incapacitates your body, it will be very difficult not only to swim but also to kick your legs.

If you can see people around, yell for help. They may not be able to get you out of the water but at least they will call an emergency service.

8. Swim Horizontally

Once you have identified the point from which you are going to exit the cold water, swim as fast as possible toward it and hold onto an ice edge. Try to get a large part of your upper body as you can out of the water and use your elbows and forearms to support yourself up. Next, set your lower body in a horizontal position and forcefully kick your legs to push yourself out of the cold water.

After most of your upper body is out of the ice and you have held yourself onto the ice edge, it would be wise to wait a few seconds so your clothes can drain water. This will help reduce your overall weight and pull yourself out easily.

If you don’t know how to rescue yourself, try not to move much so you can conserve your energy as you wait for the rescue team. Also, keep your legs crossed and your arms as out of the water as possible to preserve heat.

9. Once You Are Out

After you have pulled yourself out of the water, remain sprayed on the ice. It is safe this way, as the weight of your body is evenly distributed on the ground. Resist the urge to run or stand up on the ice because you might sink again. Instead, roll slowly to the harder ground or thicker ice.

10. Get Back To Safety

Getting out of the water safely doesn’t mean you are completely out of danger. Hypothermia is real and could be developing fast inside your body. That said, once you are safely out of the frozen water, try to trace your path back to the shore, tent, or car so you can warm yourself up. As your body is still recovering from the cold shock, it may not be so cooperative so may want to drag yourself or crawl to safety.

Seek help from the people nearby. If you start experiencing dizziness, shivering, increased heart rate, difficulty in speaking, hyperventilation, or clumsiness, hypothermia has already kicked in and it’s time to get emergency medical care.

11. Stay Warm

Since you were submerged in cold water, chances are good that your clothes are all cold and wet. Take them off and put on fresh ones so you can stay warm. If you brought your coffee maker, prepare a cup or two of coffee. The mug will keep your hands warm and the beverage will warm the inner parts of your body.

Turn your heater on too or light a fire and eat something warm. This will help generate the heat your body needs to kick out the cold shock.

Globo Surf Overview

If you love backpacking or camping in snowy, icy winters, then you know how dangerous falling through ice can be. But this misfortune can be prevented by avoiding areas where ice is not strong enough and carrying the right safety gear.

You will survive thin ice by staying calm, controlling your breathing, and getting your head and an as large part of your body as possible out of the water. Once you have pulled yourself out, do everything you can to stay warm. If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of hypothermia, seek emergency medical help.

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!