Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

What to do when breaking the ice

12/8/2022 by Christina Barsoum, D.O.


As winter nears, many of you will be embarking upon adventures in this Land of 10,000 Lakes. As a primary care physician, I have recommendations to prepare you when "breaking the ice."

Ice fishing

Start by using an auger, chisel or drill to break the ice near your anticipated place of play. Then use a tape measure to calculate the ice thickness. Below are general guidelines of how much weight ice can hold in relation to its thickness.

  • < 4 inches = STAY OFF the ice. 
  • 4 inches = Safe to be on foot. 
  • 5–7 inches = Safe for snowmobile travel. 
  • 8–12 inches = Safe for car travel. 
  • 12–15 inches = Safe for truck travel. 

When traveling on white ice — or snow ice — double the thickness guidelines above. White ice is only about half as strong as clear ice. 

What should you do if you fall through the ice?

  • Keep your clothes on, as this can trap air and help you float. 
  • Face the direction in which you entered, as this ice is the strongest. 
  • Stabilize yourself by placing your hands and arms on unbroken surfaces. 
  • Kick your feet and use your arm strength to propel yourself out of the water. 
  • Lie flat on the ice and roll away from the hole. 

What should you do if a friend falls through the ice?

  • Shout out to your friend that help is on the way — then dial 911. 
  • Extend an object to your friend, such as a rope or a cable. 
  • Stabilize yourself and provide counterforce while the other person attempts to pull himself or herself out of the water. 
  • If your friend starts to pull you in, release your grip and restart. 
  • If the above methods don't work, have your friend tie the rope around his or her waist until additional help arrives. 

For more information and guidance on ice safety, visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website

Christina Barsoum, D.O., is a resident in the Department of Family Medicine in Rochester. She provides full spectrum patient care at Mayo Family Clinic Kasson.