Caution, Common Sense Urged in Venturing on Ice

During December the ice on Beaver Lake formed and then disappeared four times. However, with the arrival of both colder weather and the New Year, a fifth sheen of ice began to cover the entire lake and to start the groaning and grunting sounds that often occur as it freezes. But the ice remains thin and unsafe.

Derry Fire Department Battalion Chief Michael Doyle said caution and common sense need to be used when going out on ice.

“Everyone should use the utmost caution and common sense if you are going out onto the ice,” Doyle said. “I recommend wearing a personal flotation device and carrying an ice pick. That way if you should fall through, you would have a way to get out. But most important is to use caution.”

Ice covers all but the near shore area of Beaver Lake in this photo taken Monday, Jan. 5. State and local officials urge caution, common sense in going out on pond and lake ice. Photo by Penny Williams
Ice covers all but the near shore area of Beaver Lake in this photo taken Monday, Jan. 5. State and local officials urge caution, common sense in going out on pond and lake ice. Photo by Penny Williams

The safety of the ice on ponds, lakes and streams is a concern each year, even after cold weather has produced fairly thick ice, because a thaw, rain or the currents under the ice can weaken the ice and make it unsafe for people and vehicles.               

Local fire departments don’t put out warnings on ice safety but all agree on basic safety tips. They note that local ice fishermen are mostly knowledgeable and experienced, and checking to see if people are ice fishing is a sign the ice is probably safe. But even after the ice has had time to thicken with plenty of cold temperatures, people need to remember that just because one spot appears safe, that doesn’t mean the entire surface is safe.

The ice thickness is affected by currents and wind, especially near inlets and outlets. Skaters and those clearing areas for a skating rink should stay close to shore so that should someone fall through, they won’t be in water over their head. People can check with the New Hampshire Fish and Game web site at for information on ice thickness and other safety tips.

New Hampshire Fish and Game states it is not advisable to drive vehicles onto the ice. It recommends a minimum of 6 inches of thickness of ice for foot travel, based on information from the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, and a minimum of 8 to 10 inches of hard ice for snow machines or All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs).

People are urged to stay off the ice along the shoreline if it is cracked or squishy and to watch out for thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and ice may also indicate weak spots.

The Fish and Game tips say small bodies of water tend to freeze more thickly, while rivers and lakes are more prone to wind, currents and wave action that weaken the ice. And they urge people to avoid gathering in large groups or driving large, heavy vehicles onto the ice.

The Fish and Game Department puts out a brochure, “Safety on Ice,” which includes more tips, such as always going ice fishing with a buddy; not building a fire on the ice; bringing blankets and a first-aid kit; and dressing in layers and wearing a hat. Gloves or mittens, sunglasses, insulated waterproof boots, extra clothing and food and hot drinks should be brought along as well.

Pets should always be kept on a leash on ice. Officials say that if a pet falls through the ice, the owner should not attempt to rescue it but should call 9-1-1 or seek help.

Fish and Game also notes that new ice is usually stronger than old ice, and people should beware of ice covered with snow, which can keep ice from freezing. Snow can also hide cracks.

In addition, slush is a danger sign, indicating that ice is no longer freezing from the bottom and can be weak or deteriorating.

If a companion falls through the ice and you are unable to reach that person from shore, officials suggest throwing a rope, jumper cables, a tree branch or something similar to the victim. Call 9-1-1 and seek help and medical assistance.

Advice if you fall in includes: turning toward the direction from which you came, placing your hands and arms on the unbroken surface, and working forward by kicking. Once out, remain lying on the ice – do not stand – and roll away from the hole. Crawl back to your tracks, keeping your weight distributed until you return to solid ice.

Those venturing on the ice are encouraged to bring a fully-charged cell phone and to carry a safety line that can be thrown to someone who has gone through the ice.