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An Echo Press Editorial: Think twice before going out on the ice

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

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Now is a good time to talk to your children about the dangers of walking on lakes and ponds that have only a thin layer of ice.
Contributed photo by the Minnesota DNR
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We’ve had some up and down weather lately – bitter cold spells followed by warm-ups and then plunging back into the teens. The result: Uncertain ice conditions on lakes and ponds.

Those who are willing to tempt fate for a bucket of fish, a skating venture or a wintry walk across a pond, should follow the old adage – better safe than sorry.

Remember, even though the ice may look thick enough, the water underneath is dangerously cold and can quickly turn winter fun into a tragedy.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is reminding everyone to be extremely cautious around the water. It’s also a good time for parents to talk to their children about the risks of cold water and ice.

While ice is never 100% safe, ice in the early stages of formation is particularly dangerous, according to the DNR. Falls through the ice or into open water at this time of year can turn deadly, and each year result in serious injuries or deaths.

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Parents and guardians need to be especially vigilant about watching kids and ensuring children’s innate curiosity about the water and ice doesn’t put them at risk, the DNR said in a news release.

“Kids, and people who haven’t experienced winter in Minnesota, may not have enough knowledge to mitigate the risks associated with cold water and early ice,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, DNR enforcement division director. “Talk to your kids, talk to your neighbors – we all have a role to play in keeping people safe as the winter season gets underway.”

Anyone who ventures out onto the ice should wait until there’s at least 4 inches of new, clear ice, the DNR warns. Other tips for staying safe around cold water and on the ice include:

  • Wearing a foam life jacket or flotation suit.
  • Not going out alone – and letting someone know about trip plans and expected return time.
  • Carrying ice picks, rope, an ice chisel and tape measure.
  • Checking ice thickness at regular intervals; conditions can change quickly.
  • Bringing a cell phone or personal locator beacon.
  • Inquiring about conditions and known hazards with local experts before heading out.

Remember, the DNR does not measure ice thickness on Minnesota lakes. Your safety is your responsibility. Check ice thickness frequently.
In case you’ve forgotten the DNR’s ice thickness guidelines, here they are:

Less than 4 inches – stay off.

4 inches – ice fishing or other activities on foot.5 to 7 inches – snowmobile or small ATV.

7 to 8 inches – side-by-side ATV.

9 to 10 inches – small car or SUV.

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11 to 12 inches – medium SUV or small truck.

13 inches – medium truck.

16 to 17 inches – heavy duty truck.

20 or more inches – heavy duty truck with wheelhouse shelter.

For more information about staying safe on the ice, see the DNR’s ice safety page – mndnr.gov/icesafety. For more information about surviving a fall into cold water, see the cold water dangers page – mndnr.gov/coldwater.

On Nov. 17, members of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office Dive Rescue Team worked on their airboat and thin ice recovery skills while training on a slough off of County Road 23. We’re fortunate to have a skilled response team in our community that can save lives. But instead of putting them to the test, county residents should follow common sense advice from the experts and not create a rescue scenario.

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