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 is one of the leading causes of snowmobile deaths.
Any snowmobile and any snowmobiler can easily ride on the ice, though extra precautions and additional safety gear are recommended. Below is a list of basic safety tips to keep in mind if you’re going to operate your snowmobile on frozen lakes and rivers.
Basic Ice Safety Tips:
- An absolute minimum of 5 inches / 12cm of good high quality ice is required before operating a snowmobile on it, waiting until the ice is 10 inches / 25 cm thick or more is highly recommended.
- Ice strength varies widely depending on many factors.
– Clear blue ice is usually good strong ice.
– White or opaque ice is weaker, often about half as strong as blue ice.
– Grey ice and slushy ice should be avoided.
– Ice thickness and quality can vary across a body of water and will be affected by water depth, currents, weather patterns, and other factors.
- Before heading out, check ice condition reports if available.
- If you’re not sure about the ice, don’t go on the ice.
- 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.
- Always be aware of overflow and be ready to avoid it. Overflow occurs when there is good strong ice, however the weight of the ice has squeezed some of the water out from under it and then this water pools on top of the ice and forms a layer of water and slush. This is hazardous to snowmobilers because snowmobiles can easily get stuck in this slush, and getting your snowmobile out requires a great deal of effort and usually results in you getting wet. Always try to avoid areas of overflow and if you do find yourself in one try to keep your momentum going and get well away from the area before stopping.
- Always travel with rope, pull strap, shovel, and other related equipment for safely and effectively pulling out snowmobiles that get stuck.
- Always carry some dry clothing to change into in case you get wet trying to retrieve a stuck snowmobile.
- Avoid areas where creeks and rivers enter and exit lakes, and other areas known to have a strong current. Ice will usually be significantly thinner in areas with flowing water directly underneath.
- Avoid areas known to have thin ice or open water.
- Frozen lakes may look like a flat open area to play in, but they often have many hard to see hazards such as ice ridges, hard packed snow drifts, ice fishing holes, ice road windrows, etc.
- Keep in mind 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, on 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.
– Keep as much speed and momentum as you can and gently steer towards dry land or safer ice.
– Try to keep the front end of the sled up to avoid your skis catching under ice layers.
- 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.
– As you pull yourself out keep your weight as spread out as possible by crawling on your stomach until you’re well away from the open water and back on either strong ice or dry land.
– Immediately proceed to a warm place if there is one nearby, if there isn’t then immediately start a fire to begin warming anyone who got wet.
- Call for help as soon as possible, any time a snowmobiler has gone through the ice there is a good chance you will need additional assistance.
- If you’re helping someone else take precautions to ensure you don’t fall in yourself.
– If you end up in the water as well you’ll only make the problem worse.
– Try to avoid going near the open water and thin ice, and instead help from a safe distance by throwing flotation devices and ropes to anyone in the water so you can help pull them to safety.
– If anyone else is around get their attention and direct them to call for help and begin building a fire at a nearby safe location.
- When immersed in water during a Yukon winter it only takes a few 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.
More information is available via these links:
Safe Riders program ice section: http://www.saferiderssafetyawareness.org/snowmobiling-and-ice.html
Yukon Department of Environment overflow tips and tricks video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zofyktmpYto