Falling Through Ice

November 8, 2016

How to rescue yourself and others

Courtesy of the U.S. Swim School Association

Illustration at right by Jason Lee


The Northwest’s mountainous regions and flatlands provide us with cool places to enjoy water in the summer heat and many opportunities for ice-skating and open-air hockey during the winter months. Each year, nearly 8,000 people die from drowning after falling through ice; there is always a concern for safety regardless of whether the water is flowing or frozen. Here is a list of what to do if you or others fall through the ice.

Choose Carefully: The best strategy is prevention; never venture onto ice that’s three inches thick or less.

Keep Calm: Should you fall through, do your best to stay calm and not flail your arms, which releases valuable body heat.

Control Breathing: Due to the immediate change in body temperature and shock from the cold water, the body’s reaction is to gasp for air, which can lead to hyperventilating and increase the chances of drowning.

Do Not Undress: Keep your winter clothing on while in the water. The air inside your clothing can help you float and trap body heat.

Get Out by Staying Horizontal: Keeping your head above the water, grab onto the ice in the direction you came from. This ice should be strong enough to help you leverage your body out of the water.

Stay horizontal as best as you can to keep your weight spread out over the edges of the ice. Once you’ve gotten most of your upper body out of the water, kick your legs as strongly as possible to get the rest of your body out of the water and onto the ice.

Roll onto the Ice: Once you are on the ice, do not stand up. Instead, roll over on the ice to prevent more cracks from forming and falling in again.

Retrace Your Steps: Once you are out and a safe distance from the hole, trace your footsteps back to shore.

Throw, Don’t Go: If you have friends nearby, advise them to not enter the water or get close to the hole to help you. The safest option is for someone to throw a lifesaving device, branch, coat or rope into the water, wait until you grab hold, then tow you to safety.

Get Warm: Once out of the water, immediately seek medical attention to bring your body temperature back to normal.

This story is courtesy of the U.S. Swim School Association (USSSA) which has partnered with Safer 3 Water Safety Foundation for its official water-safety program. For more information, visit www.usswimschools.org.