Lt. Robert Bryant: (603) 271-3127
      Jane Vachon: (603) 271-3211
      January 15, 2010

Use Extreme Caution on the Ice

CONCORD, N.H. – Winter recreational activities are in full swing, but anglers, skiers and snowmobilers are being urged to use extreme caution when going out onto ice-covered waterbodies, New Hampshire Fish and Game officials warned today.  Windy conditions at the outset of the season’s cold weather, and uneven temperatures since, may have affected ice formation and has left open water in some areas typically frozen over by this point in the winter. 

“Parts of the big lakes aren’t completely frozen yet, and we’re seeing some waterbodies with areas of open water where people might not expect to find it,” said Col. Martin Garabedian.  “The bottom line is that people need to use extreme caution on the ice, and be highly aware of local conditions before snowmobiling – especially at night -- or doing any winter sports on the ice.”

One example of the unusual and potentially dangerous ice conditions is Webster Lake in Franklin, which still has open water near the Sucker Brook inlet and spans quite a distance out into the middle of the lake.  These unusual conditions haven’t been seen on the lake in at least twenty years at this point in the season.  It is believed that the current of the brook and the high amount of wind are the reasons the water remains open.  Even after the lake does freeze, that particular area will need to be used with extreme caution.    

Be sure to assess ice safety before you go out by using an ice chisel or axe to chop a hole in the ice to determine its thickness and condition.  Continue to do this as you get further out on to the ice, because the thickness of the ice will not be uniform all over the waterbody. 

Though all ice is potentially dangerous, the Cold Region Research Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., offers a "rule of thumb" on ice thickness:  There should be a minimum of six inches of hard ice before individual foot travel, and eight to ten inches of hard ice for snow machine or ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) travel.  Keep in mind that it is possible for ice to be thick, but not strong, because of varying weather conditions.  Weak ice is formed when warming trends break down ice, then the slushy surface re-freezes.  Be especially careful of areas with current, such as inlets, outlets and spring holes, where the ice can be dangerously thin. 

Tips for staying safe on the ice include:

  • Stay off the ice along the shoreline if it is cracked or squishy.  Don’t go on the ice during thaws.

  • Watch out for thin, clear or honeycombed ice.  Dark snow and ice may also indicate weak spots.

  • Small bodies of water tend to freeze thicker.  Rivers and lakes are more prone to wind, currents and wave action that weaken ice.

  • Don’t gather in large groups on the ice.

  • Don’t drive large vehicles onto the ice.

  • If you do break through the ice, don’t panic.  Move or swim back to where you fell in, where you know the ice was solid.  Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard.  This will help lift your body onto the ice.  A set of ice picks can aid you in a self-rescue (wear them around your neck or put them in an easily accessible pocket).  Once out of the water, roll away from the hole until you reach solid ice.

Ice safety should be paramount for anyone recreating on New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds.  Don't assume ice is safe just because it's there.

To download a brochure from Fish and Game called "Safety on Ice," visit



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