Ice-Fishing Safety Tips

Before venturing onto the frozen lakes and ponds of New England this winter, follow these important safety tips:

In general, a clear layer of ice 4” thick is safe for foot traffic, but there are no guarantees. Always consider ice to be potentially dangerous. Assess the ice by using a chisel to chop a hole in the ice to determine its thickness and condition. Ice thickness is seldom uniform, so continue to test the ice as you venture further onto the pond or lake. Remember that ice thickness depends on water currents, depth, and the presence of springs and objects such as tree stumps or rocks (ice will be thinner around objects that retain warmth from the sun). Daily changes in temperature also cause the ice to expand and contract, which affects its strength. Never venture on to ice-bound rivers or streams, because the currents make ice thickness unpredictable.

What if you fall through the ice? As with any emergency, don’t panic! Briefly call for help. It doesn’t take long for the cold water to start slowing your physical and mental functions, so you must act quickly. Air will remain trapped in your clothes for a short time, aiding in buoyancy. Kick your legs while grasping for firm ice. Try to pull your body up using ice pins or picks, which should be hanging around your neck. Once your torso is on firm ice, roll towards thicker ice—the direction from which you previously walked. Rolling will distribute your weight better than walking.

After you reach safe ice, you need to warm up quickly to prevent hypothermia. Go to the nearest fishing shanty, warm car, or house. Don’t drive home in wet clothes.

If a companion falls through the ice, remember the phrase “Reach-Throw-Go.” If you are unable to reach your friend, throw him/her a rope, jumper cables, tree branch or other object. If this does not work, go for help; do not risk becoming a victim yourself. Pet owners should keep pets on a leash. If a pet falls through the ice, do not attempt to rescue the pet; go for help. Well-meaning pet owners often fall through the ice when trying to save their pets.

Ice Thickness and Strength

Ice Thickness (inches)

Permissible Load (on new* clear**, blue ice on lakes or ponds)

2″ or less



Ice fishing or other activities on foot


Snowmobile or ATV


Car or small pickup truck

12″ – 15″

Medium truck

*New ice is stronger than older ice. **White ice or “snow ice” is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Double the above thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice.

  • More Safety Tips
  • Leave information about your plans with someone, including where you intend to fish and when you expect to return.


  • Wear a personal flotation device.


  • Ice varies in thickness and condition. Always carry an ice spud or chisel to check ice as you proceed.


  • Be extremely cautious crossing ice near river mouths, points of land, bridges, islands, and over reefs and springs. Current almost always 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 underway, 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!


  • Make sure your cell phone is fully charged.


  • Carry a safety line that can be thrown to someone who has gone through the ice.


  • 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.