Snowmobile Ice Safety
Snowmobiling on frozen lakes and rivers can be a fun and rewarding experience, and introduces a whole new dimension to your rides. However, snowmobiling on the ice does increase the risk of an accident, and drowning continues to be a leading cause of snowmobile deaths.
Most any snowmobile and snowmobiler can easily ride on the ice, though extra precautions and additional safety gear are highly recommended. Below is a list of basic safety tips to keep in mind before and while operating your snowmobile on frozen lakes and rivers. For more complete information please check out some of these sources:
Basic Ice Safety Tips:
- Before heading out, check ice condition reports if available.
- Wear ice escape picks (a small, padded, floating set of ice picks that hang around your neck or from your snow suit and can be used to pull yourself out of the water and back on to the ice). A variety of styles are available, and many of them can be purchased for under $50.
- If you spend a lot of time snowmobiling on ice consider a floating snowmobile suit.
- Keep distance between each snowmobile, so if an area of ice does give way only one sled will be affected.
- Avoid areas where creeks and rivers enter and exit lakes, and other areas known to have a strong current. Ice can be significantly thinner in areas with flowing water directly underneath.
- Avoid areas known to have thin ice or open water.
- Ice strength varies widely depending on many factors.
– Clear blue ice is usually strong ice.
– White or opaque ice is weaker, often about half as strong as blue ice.
– Grey ice and slushy ice should be avoided.
- An absolute minimum of 6 inches / 16 cm of good quality ice is required before operating a snowmobile on it, waiting until there is 10 inches / 25 cm or more is highly recommended.
- Frozen lakes may look like a flat open area to play in, but they often have many hard to see hazards such as ice stress ridges, hard packed snow drifts, ice fishing holes, ice road windrows, etc.
- Snowmobiles can be difficult to steer and take a long time to stop due to the limited traction on ice, and snowmobile collisions on frozen lakes do happen.
- If you find yourself on thin ice, open water, or you suspect the ice is giving way, DO NOT STOP…
– A slow moving or stopped snowmobile will sink, while a fast moving snowmobile will often skip across the top of water.
– Try to keep the front end of the sled up to avoid having your skis catching under ice layers.
– Keep as much speed and momentum as you can and gently steer towards dry land or safer ice.
- If you fall through, don’t panic.
– Get upright and swim to the edge of the ice.
– Leave your clothing on, air trapped in your clothing and between layers will help you float.
– Begin pulling yourself out, and keep your weight as spread out as possible by crawling on your stomach until well away from the open water and back on strong ice or land.
– Once out immediately proceed to a warm place if there is one nearby, and if there isn’t then immediately start a fire to begin warming anyone who got wet and then call for help as soon as possible.
- If you’re helping someone else don’t fall in yourself.
– As a rescuer if you end up in the water as well without professional gear and training you will only make the problem worse.
– If at all possible try to avoid going near the open water and thin ice, and instead help by throwing flotation devices and ropes to anyone in the water so you can help pull them out from a safe distance.
– If anyone else is around get their attention and direct them to call for help immediately and begin building a fire at a nearby safe location.
- When immersed in water during a Yukon winter it only takes minutes for hypothermia to set in.
– Know the symptoms and be prepared to deal with them.
– Common symptoms of hypothermia are often described as similar to being drunk, and usually include slow reaction time, slurred speech, and clumsiness.
– To avoid serious long term problems or death, getting out of the water and getting warm and dry again fast is absolutely critical and must happen quickly.