Ice safety

Ice Safety


Iceboating is an activity with inherent risk and no ice is ever 100% safe. West Michigan Ice Yacht Club may provide general ice condition information but does not warrant or imply the ice is suitable for any activity. The West Michigan Ice Yacht Club, its officers, members and volunteers take no responsibility in each individual’s decision to participate in iceboating or to venture onto the ice. Each individual is responsible for evaluating the ice, the existence of any hazards and determining if the ice is safe to participate in iceboating. The ultimate decision of whether or not to venture onto the ice rests solely with each individual. Acknowledging that iceboating has inherent risk and considering the present ice and wind conditions, each individual must determine if he/she has adequate requisite skills, ability and proper equipment to take part in iceboating without endangering his/herself or others, Each individual must continuously monitor all conditions and make his/her decision accordingly.

by Dean Runk

Every time we gather, whether it is during one of our regular meetings or as we gather on one of our many sailing venues, we the subject of  “Ice Safety” is the paramount topic of discussion.  We always make an effort to talk to local residents to benefit from their local knowledge of the lake and its current ant typical past ice conditions.  We normally have a couple of sailors cautiously sail and scout the area we intend to sail in order to locate and mark open or questionable areas.  If unsafe areas are known, and there are prominent geographical areas that can be easily identified as our sailing boundaries (i.e. distinguishable points of land/shoreline or structures, they are shared by all in attendance.  We all discuss our obvious awareness of the importance of:

  • Wearing a helmet and goggles.
  • Not only having, but also WEARING, our Ice Picks where they can be easily accessed.
  • Having and wearing some sort of ice grippers on our shoes at all times while on the ice or under sail.
  • Carrying some sort of signaling device i.e. a loud whistle, a smoke flair, an air horn, etc.
  • A throw-rope with an ice screw attached.
  • Knowledge of the right of way rules.

To one degree or another, all of these in combination were accessed in a recent through the ice rescue of one of our members while recently sailing with other WMIYC members on one of our area lakes.

The individual that was in distress was NOT wearing his Ice Picks, had no signalling device and more importantly, after being made aware of areas to avoid, even being heard discussing the unsafe ice area information with others, proceeded to gradually extend his sailing area until he finally found himself well beyond the safety line we all agreed to not violate.

Upon tacking and heading back in the direction of safer ice he soon, and very abruptly, found himself in the water. Being WELL beyond the safe boundaries of what we all had agreed to abide by, he was obviously in an area that was not  immediately or repeatedly in the visual area of other sailors sailing the circuit that was within the previously agreed upon SAFE SAIL area.  As the result of the above, this individual was not able to extract himself from the water without assistance.  He DID NOT HAVE HIS ICE PICKS WITH HIM!

When he was finally noticed, ONLY by chance it might be added, by a local ice skater who then informed one of our members that was the last to leave of a group of fellow sailors who had momentarily stopped and gathered some distance away for another purpose.  This one member, upon reaching the one in distress, fortunately had a throw-rope in his DN that he deployed in an attempt to retrieve the individual who, by this time, had been in the water for a significant period of time.  Although the throw-rope was successfully deployed to the the member in the water, he could not retrieve him from the water because HE DID NOT HAVE ANY ICE GRIPPING DEVICES ON HIS SHOES!  Only after receiving assistance from the skater, who was able to gain traction from his skates, were they able to extract the member in the water.

Does any of this make an impression on anyone regarding having a “Safety Check List” prior to going on the ice?

After getting the distressed individual ashore there were a couple of observations/thoughts that I have had as I reflect upon the subsequent ashore actions we took:

  • Upon stripping him of his wet clothing we placed him in a full length down coat, wrapped him in a wool blanket, gave him a set of “hand warmers” and laid him (initially unattended) in the back of an SUV with the motor running and the heat set to high.
  • Here’s a couple of thoughts about our actions as we left to retrieve his boat:
    • We should not have left him unattended.
    • Would it have been better to have placed him, stripped down, in the front passenger seat with the coat draped over the dashboard, both the heater and the heated front seat turned on?
      • The thought being, did the wrapping of an individual, whose core body temperature was already low, only insulate him from the heat in the vehicle and retard any core temperature recovery?

This event will obviously be a point of discussion during our next outing and meeting!  Give it some serious thought and then take ICE SAFETY MORE SERIOUSLY!

Ice Safety Video

At the our 2013-14 WMIYC Annual Meeting we all had an opportunity to view a very sobering video of Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht dealing with the hazard and consequences of going through the ice.  Please take the ten minutes to again review the video via the following link:

Strategies for survival if you fall through the ice. Discovery Channel Canada Videos (2002) — Credit belongs to Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht (Professor, B.P.E. Program – Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation Studies) who acted as a Cold Weather Columnist for the Discovery Channel Canada.

In support of the information you will gain from again viewing the video, the following graphic is presented to provide you with useful information about what the key points Dr. Giesbrecht made about the going through the ice! Clicking on the graphic will take you to the web site for better viewing. Dec 8th, 2014