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How to Survive Falling through the Ice

You can survive a plunge through thin ice – if you don’t panic.


  • Step 1: Test the ice Never venture across a frozen body of water without first testing the ice with an ice spud, auger, or drill. Two inches can support one person; four inches are needed for two people; and five inches of solid ice are required to support a snowmobile or other off-road vehicle. Ice is generally thickest near the shore.
  • TIP: Ice that is dirty, milk-colored, or snow-covered is weaker than clear ice.
  • Step 2: Look for a stick Look for a long, sturdy pole or stick to hang onto before crossing; that way, if the ice does give way, it may prevent you from falling all the way in.
  • Step 3: Crawl across frozen water Crawl across frozen water on all fours so that your weight is distributed. Ice thickness can vary from spot to spot.
  • Step 4: Grip the pole If you feel the ice beneath you cracking, grip the pole tightly--or spread your arms straight out if you have no pole--to break your fall and keep your torso above the water.
  • TIP: If you fall completely underwater, swim up to the hole you fell through, and use your elbows to pull your body up enough to get your arms on the ice.
  • Step 5: Steady your breathing Spend a moment getting your breathing under control.
  • Step 6: Kick and pull With your arms on the ice, start kicking your legs until your body is nearly horizontal with the surface. Then slither your body onto the ice, in the direction you came from.
  • Step 7: Roll and crawl Roll yourself away from the hole, and crawl back to shore on your stomach.
  • TIP: If you got out of the water fairly quickly, roll around in the fluffiest snow you can find; it will blot up some of the wetness before it reaches your skin.
  • Step 8: Stick to the ice If you can’t get out within 10 minutes, hypothermia may set in and make moving your legs impossible. In that case, put your wet arms on the ice so they freeze there and prevent you from going under. And start yelling for help.
  • TIP: Stay still to preserve body heat, and try not to panic: Despite how cold and stiff you feel, you will not freeze to death in a matter of moments.
  • Step 9: Thaw out Once you're out of the water, get out of your wet clothes as soon as possible and sip warm -- not hot -- nonalcoholic liquids. Then get to a hospital for an evaluation; hypothermia can cause dangerous aftereffects that aren’t always immediately apparent.
  • FACT: Approximately 1,000 Americans fall through ice each year.

You Will Need

  • A long
  • sturdy pole or stick
  • Deep breathing
  • Steady nerves

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