Since the winter season has begun, Indiana Conservation officers are urging winter sports enthusiasts to put safety first.
"The best rule of thumb to use when you are on or around frozen lakes or ponds is to remember that there is no such thing as safe ice," Indiana Conservation Officer Thomas Lahay of Cloverdale says, "and although a lake or river is frozen, that does not mean it can be safely traveled."
Indiana Conservation officers remind Hoosiers to remain safe on the ice by following a few simple rules when considering standing on or walking on a frozen lake or pond:
-- Leave information about your plans with someone -- where you intend to fish and when you expect to return.
--Wear a personal floatation device.
-- Don't fish or skate alone. Let others know where you and your partners are going and when you plan to return.
-- Ice varies in thickness and condition. Always carry an ice spud, auger, or chisel to check ice as you proceed. A safe thickness for ice fishing is a minimum of four inches.
-- Be extremely cautious crossing ice near river mouths, points of land, bridges, islands, and over springs. Current causes ice to be thinner over these areas.
-- Avoid going onto the ice if it has melted away from the shore. This indicates melting is under way, and ice can shift position as wind direction changes.
-- Waves from open water can quickly break up large areas of ice. If you can see open water in the lake and the wind picks up, get off!
-- Carry a set of hand spikes to help you work your way out onto the surface of the ice if you go through. Holding one in each hand, you can alternately punch them into the ice and pull yourself up and out. You can make these at home, using large nails, or you can purchase them at stores that sell fishing supplies.
-- Carry a safety line that can be thrown to someone who has gone through the ice.
-- Leave your car or truck on shore.
-- Heated fishing shanties must have good ventilation to prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Open a window or the door part way to allow in fresh air.
-- Keep fishing holes small and few. When drilling fishing holes with an ice auger, try to keep the diameter under eight inches ... maximum hole size should not exceed 12 inches. Bigger holes are not necessary to land fish and can create a safety hazard for others.
-- Watch your step. Avoid ice fishing near feeder streams or known springs; brush, logs, plants or docks; multiple ice cracks or ice that is popping or otherwise audible; and dark-colored ice that may be weak.
-- Spread out. Too many people congregated in one area may be more than the ice can safely support. Disperse weight and fishing holes.
-- Be prepared for weather conditions. Dress in layers and wear thermal underwear, fleece or wool, and wind and waterproof outerwear, especially for feet, hands and head. Take extra clothes, food, water, sand for on-ice traction, and a sled for easy on-ice transport of all equipment.
-- Be prepared for emergencies. Pack a first-aid kit and matches for starting a fire.
If you find yourself falling through the ice and into the water, Lahay advises:
-- Remain calm.
-- Slip off loose boots to better tread water.
-- Use ice awls to pull yourself out of the water. If no ice awls are available, call for help and try "swimming out" by letting your body rise up to firm ice and crawl out.
-- Stay flat, distributing your weight on the ice.
-- Keep your clothes on once out of the water. This will keep you insulated.
-- If someone else falls in, REACH (stick or fishing pole), THROW (rope or flotation device), ROW (row or push a boat), and GO (call for help).
"Common sense is the best approach to prevent ice-related accidents," Lahay says. "This includes checking ice conditions and preparing yourself before venturing out.
"Taking a few minutes to check the ice from shore, talking to local authorities, fishermen, or bait shops, and systematically checking the ice while going out on the ice can make your experience on the ice a safer one."