As Mother Nature jumps back and forth between mild and freezing conditions this winter, it can be hazardous to anyone wanting to do any outdoor leisure activities on ice, such as skating or snowmobiling.
“With the weather as it is, what was perhaps solid one day may have changed dramatically the next,” said Colchester RCMP Cpl. Addie Maccallum. “The thickness could have changed greatly.”
Thickness is the thing people need to take into consideration the most when it comes to heading out on ice, particularly on lakes and rivers.
“Running water is going to be more dangerous, because it’s not going to freeze like still water will,” he said.
If people are wishing to do any skating, hockey playing, fishing or snowmobiling, Maccallum hopes they’ll check the thickness of the ice before they do so.
“There are some standards when it comes to thickness,” he said. “If you’re going to be doing any skating or activity like that with one or two people, there should be 15 centimetres of thickness.”
For a large group of people on the ice, as well as snowmobilers, the ice should be 20-25 centimetres.
“Especially for large events, it’s good to take the time and test the ice properly, in more than one spot. But when it comes right down to it, it should be common sense to check the ice where you’re going to be,” Maccallum said.
In Colchester County, Maccallum said there are two lakes that see a lot of activity during the winter months.
“Sutherlands Lake is a huge one for sure, with the snowmobile races, and Shortts Lake gets a bit of activity."
Maccallum can’t recall the detachment being called to any situation of people falling through Colchester County ice over the past few years, but he does know officers get called for situations of people trying to cross the Salmon River on ice.
“Although it doesn’t freeze for any activities, there are still people trying to walk across the ice flows. It’s very common in the spring,” he said. “That’s typically the biggest call for us and we normally get several calls each year.”
Along with the RCMP, other emergency personnel such as Emergency Health Services, the local fire departments or ground search and rescue crews will also be dispatched to the scene.
“The fire departments and ground search and rescue teams are usually the ones to have the gear and the training to facilitate ice rescues,” Maccallum said. “But we often get called to assist.
“When we get those calls on Salmon River, the people generally know that they made a mistake and they did that with no sort of planning. They’re not like your fishermen with years of experience on ice, they’re just trying to be adventurous but that can sometimes get them into trouble.”
The best thing for people to do if they find themselves falling through ice is not to panic.
“Because the ice is thin where they fell through, they shouldn’t try to pull themselves up because that will cause the ice around them to break and they’ll find themselves exhausted quickly,” said Maccallum.
If possible, the person in the water should spread their body as wide as possible and kick their feet to push themselves up onto the ice.
“They should spread themselves wide to get out of the water and then crawl forward."