Drowning doesn't just happen to non-swimmers in the summer.
Approximately 35% of drownings in Canada occur from October to
April when most people have no intention of going into the water.
Snowmobiling and ice accidents account for most of these incidents,
but it's important to realize that even at the height of summer,
water in Canadian lakes and rivers is usually below 20 degrees
Celsius. To stay safe, check the ice to make sure it's thick enough
and always wear a lifejacket during activities around the
Ice Safety and Cold Water Facts
- Water in Ontario is colder than you think.
- Cold water shock.
- You can only survive a few minutes in cold water.
- Most drownings occur in water less than 20 degrees
- No ice is without risk.
- Snowmobiling over frozen bodies of water poses a large
Ice Safety Tips
- Check the ice thickness.
- Wear a lifejacket, it buys you time.
- If you are going out onto ice, know what to do if you break
Minimum Ice Thickness for:
- a single person - 4 inches (10 cm)
- a snowmobile or ATV - 5 inches (12 cm)
- a single car - 8-12 inches (20-30 cm)
- a vehicle (full-size pick up truck) - 12-15 inches (30-38
Stay alive, stay ice smart
The Lifesaving Society encourages you to be ice smart - know the
basics and be sensible. Most winter drowning victims are male
snowmobilers. But everybody needs to be careful around frozen
lakes, rivers and streams. Year after year we hear of owners
drowning while trying to rescue their dogs (incidentally, the dogs
The Society's drowning data shows:
- Almost two thirds of ice-related incidents occur on lakes and
the rest occur on rivers.
- Most snowmobile incidents involve open water/ice holes (62% of
all snowmobiling incidents) or thin ice (38%).
Here's how you can be ice smart. First, understand the
importance of determining the quality and thickness of ice before
venturing onto it. No ice is without risk. Even thick ice may be
weak so be sure to measure clear hard ice in several places. The
quality and thickness of ice can change very quickly and its
appearance can be misleading.
There are several steps you can take to stay ice smart:
- keep away from unfamiliar paths or unknown ice,
- avoid travelling on ice at night - clear hard ice is the only
kind of ice recommended for travel,
- if you must venture onto the ice, wear a thermal protection
buoyant suit to increase your chances of survival if you fall
through. If you do not have one, wear a lifejacket/PFD over an
ordinary snowmobile suit or layered winter clothing,
- avoid slushy ice, thawed ice that has recently refrozen,
layered or rotten ice caused by sudden temperature changes, and ice
near moving water (i.e., rivers or currents),
- never go on the ice alone; a buddy may be able to rescue you or
go for help if you get into difficulty,
- before you leave shore, inform someone of your destination and
expected time of return, and, ideally,
- assemble a small personal safety kit no larger than the size of
a man's wallet to carry with you. The kit should include a lighter,
waterproof matches, magnesium fire starter, pocketknife, compass
and whistle. You should also carry ice picks, an ice staff, a rope
and a cellular phone.
Ice myths and cold realities
Be Water Smart® in summer, and
winter! Always check the ice before you go on it, measure clean
hard ice in several places and be wary of varying temperature
conditions. Here are some myths and realities to remember:
1) Myth: Waterlogged clothing pulls you down in
the water and makes you drown.
Reality: Actually, air trapped in your clothing will
help keep you afloat temporarily. Once the clothes are soaked with
water, they will be heavier, making moving and swimming more
2) Myth: The better you swim the better your
chances of rescuing yourself if you fall through the ice.
Reality: Swimming proficiency plays only a small part
in ice-related rescues. After as little as five minutes, cold water
begins to rob you of your ability to move your limbs. This makes it
very difficult for you to get out of the water, no matter what your
3) Myth: Snow on a frozen lake or river makes
the ice surface stronger.
Reality: Snow acts as an insulating blanket, actually
hindering ice formation and growth.
4) Myth: If the weather has been cold, the ice
must be solid and safe.
Reality: Other factors that are largely independent of
air temperature (e.g., wind, a layer of snow on the ice, currents
and fluctuating water levels) can weaken ice and make it unable to
bear weight. A sudden drop in air temperature, which is actually
more dangerous than a sudden rise, can create cracks in the
5) Myth: Thick ice is stronger than thin
Reality: Even thick ice may be weak if it is "rotten"
or contains layers of water. Rotten ice has frozen and thawed
repeatedly, making it potentially fragile even when it appears
Check the ice before you go on it.
Thin ice is responsible for many fatalities each year.
Hypothermia, which is a decrease in body temperature, kills people
in cold water by reducing their ability to swim or stay afloat. A
person who has fallen through the ice can eventually die of cardiac
arrest if he or she is not rescued or rewarmed.
Although most victims who fall through the ice are men, it is
important that safety tips are practiced by all.
- Always check ice thickness before venturing out. Snowmobiles
require at least five inches of clear solid ice and autos at least
eight inches to a foot of clear solid ice.
- Be suspicious. You cannot tell the strength of the ice by its
appearance. Temperature, thickness, snow cover, water depth, size
of water body, currents and distribution of the load on top of the
ice are all factors affecting ice safety.
- Before you head onto any ice, check with a local bait shop
operator or resort owner for known ice conditions, thin ice areas
or dangerous open water conditions.
What to do if you break through the ice?
- Don't panic - the clothes you're wearing will trap air and keep
- Turn toward the direction you came from and place your hands
and arms on the unbroken surface.
- Kick your feet and try to push yourself forward on top of the
unbroken ice on your stomach like a seal.
- Once you are lying on the ice, don't stand up. Roll away from
the break until you're on solid ice.