Ice Fishing Safety Tips

Although ice fishing isn’t exactly what you’d call a dangerous sport, it can turn into a nightmare if you ignore safety precautions and tips.

Stable ice isn’t formed overnight. Despite the fact that it may look tempting to set out for ice fishing by the start of the season, ice can’t be considered safe to stand on before three consecutive weeks in a temperature below -8 °C. 

For such reasons, rushing towards the ice without learning the basic safety rules can cost you your life. Continue reading to find more about the safety precautions, essential safety gear, and self-rescue tactics in case the worst happens.

1. Know The Ice

You should always keep in mind that the only thing separating you from the freezing water below is a thin layer of ice. That’s why you should know the following:

Ice Hole’s Diameter

The best approach is to cut the ice with a diameter suitable for fishing but not wide enough to cause accidents, like falling into the water or losing your gear into it. Hence, a width of 8-10 inches should suffice.

Thickness of Ice

General ice safety guidelines state that a thickness of no less than 4 inches should be able to support the weight of a walking man. However, cars and pickups can only move on ice that is at least 7-12 inches dense.

Unlike fresh ice, walking on white ice requires double the safe thickness. That means you should choose areas with 8 inches thickness if you’re fishing on old ice and 16-30 inches if you’re driving.

Type of Ice

As a general rule, newly formed clear ice is twice as strong as white ice.

However, don’t trust the ice as it doesn’t freeze uniformly. It may be thick in one location spot and thinner a few inches away.

Also, if you ever hear cracking sounds coming from the ice, don’t freak out. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the ice is falling off. It could just be the sound of the ice expanding and contracting due to temperature changes.   

Location of Ice

The ice’s location can determine its structure. For instance, ice located in the center of a frozen lake is thicker and safer than ice formed near the shore. Not only that, but ice formed near streams and bridges can also be risky because it’s built over currents and flowing water. 

Also, if there’s water above the ice, then by any means, avoid the spot. Water means that it may be melting, and it’s generally not safe.

2. Provide Help But Stay Safe

It’s important to know how to give a hand if someone slips into the water. However, it’s even more important to consider your safety first before rushing for help.

First of all, never run to the edge of the hole to help the victim. That can only result in two victims instead of one.

Also, before you throw the end of a rope to the imperiled person, remember that he may fail to hold onto it, owing to his cold and numb fingers. It would be better to tie a flat knot first at the end to give them something to grasp.

Lastly, if you ever find it difficult to provide help, it’s better to call your local emergency number and have someone experienced come to help.

3. No Alcohol Allowed

All alcoholic beverages, even the mild ones, are absolutely forbidden on ice. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol doesn’t keep you warm.

Instead, it increases your chances of hypothermia, which is a condition where your body can’t generate enough heat to compensate for the lost heat. Not only that, but alcohol can also worsen your condition if you’re exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning.

4. Tell Someone About Your Plans

This is your backup. Inform someone about all the details related to your fishing plan. It’s also important to give them some kind of access to you. Thus, remember to pack your cell phone and a power bank battery charger that can provide multiple charges. 

Furthermore, if you’re fishing in a remote area where there’s lousy reception, bring a radio so that you can communicate with the outside world.

5. Ventilate Your Ice Shanty

Weirdly enough, stuffy ice shanties can lead to your death. Ice anglers usually use heaters and grills in their shacks. However, they overlook the importance of proper aeration afterward.

Given that shacks are generally small and stuffy, carbon monoxide accumulates quickly and increases to the level that can cause CO poisoning.

It’s worth mentioning that CO is also called the silent killer, as it’s colorless and odorless. The danger of this situation lies in the fact that you could actually be dying while you think you’re having a simple episode of nausea and headache that doesn’t mean much. 

That’s why you should always remember to ventilate your shanty properly.

6. Remember Your Safety Gear

Your safety gear is your lifesaver, which means it’s the most important thing you should pack with you.

PFD and Warm Clothing

Whatever the type of personal floating device (PFD) you prefer, always remember to wear one.

Some ice anglers resort to the easiest option and wear a standard life jacket over their clothes. To avoid hypothermia, they wear several layers of warm clothes. The layer nearest to their body is usually lightweight and absorbent. The next layer is preferably made of a synthetic material to provide heat insulation, and lastly, a waterproof outer layer. 

Other anglers who don’t mind spending some extra money for their safety and comfort prefer purchasing a floating ice suit, which consists of a padded jacket and a jumpsuit that provides both warmth and buoyancy at the same time.

Even though these suits may be pricey, they are the best choice if you hate stuffing yourself with bulky clothes.

Ice picks

Ice picks can aid you in hanging onto the ice and pulling yourself out should you ever fall through. 

For easy access, make sure to wear them around your neck.

Ice Chisel

An ice chisel or a spud bar is mainly a 4-5 feet long rod with a pointed tip at one end. As we mentioned before, ice thickness isn’t uniform along the whole surface. Hence, a spud bar comes in handy when you’re checking the safety of the ice by tapping the spot before stepping onto it. 

Ice Cleats

Slipping on the ice is the most common ice accident and the cause of the majority of ice anglers’ injuries. Don’t be fooled to think that slipping is a minor accident. It may be the cause of broken bones, damaged knees, or worse, spine damage, and traumatic brain injuries.

Install ice cleats or creepers on your winter boots to provide you with some resistance when you’re walking on slick ice.

Rope and Whistle

In case of trouble, the whistle is the universal signal of help. Remember to hang it around your neck to reach it easily. 

Moreover, a rope is a requisite for getting and giving help all the same. Keep it within reach to be able to throw its end to your rescuer, so that he can draw you out of the water.

Spare Clothes

Nothing beats the importance of carrying extra dry and warm clothes to change into if you hit the cold water unexpectedly.


It may sound funny, but wearing sunglasses is extremely important when you’re ice angling. Snow-blindness is a pretty serious condition that is caused by the UV rays constantly reflecting off the ice and onto your cornea. It basically gives your eyes a sunburn. 

First Aid Kit

You never know what could happen. At the very least, add some plastic bandages, antiseptic wipes, and tweezers to your safety kit.

7. Learn Self-rescue

If the worst-case scenario happens and you fall into the water, you don’t want to freeze to death. It’s obligatory to learn the self-rescue method. Here are the steps you should follow:

  1. Free yourself of any heavy items right away and stay as calm as possible to avoid drowning
  2. Direct yourself to the place you fell from because it’s very likely the most solid ice since it supported your weight before
  3. Don’t try to pull yourself out of the water immediately but stay upright as much as possible
  4. Kick your legs in the water to push your upper body above the water
  5. Slide your body up onto the ice using your leg kicks
  6. Once you’re on the ice again, roll your body away from the hole before you stand up
  7. Finally, find a warm shelter straight away and replace your wet clothes with dry and warm ones 

Final Thoughts

After all, remember that the ice is only safe if you stick to these safety precautions. We hope these tips help you enjoy your favorite winter sport without any injuries or accidents.