ESCANABA - Safety may not be the first thing ice fishermen are thinking about when they take to the ice this winter, but a little forethought could save lives.
According to Delta County Sheriff Gary Ballweg, the best way to protect yourself if you fall through the ice is to be prepared.
When a victim falls through ice, the ice surrounding the opening will crack easily, making it difficult to escape. Ballweg suggests anglers venturing out on ice should have spikes with them to grip into ice and pull themselves out of the water.
Anyone who is attempting to climb out of a hole in the ice should kick their feet in the water - like they are swimming - while pulling themselves onto the surface of the ice, he said.
When a victim pulls themselves out of the water they should roll away from the opening rather than trying to stand. Rolling spreads out the victim's body weight and limits pressure points on the ice, which could cause them to break through again.
If a group of people out on the ice hear a crack, the group should spread out and lie down before crawling to safety. Just like rolling away from an opening, lying down distributes weight over a larger area.
Escaping the ice and frigid water is only half of surviving a plunge into the water.
"The biggest danger is hypothermia. If you fall through the ice and manage to climb out you need to seek medical assistance quickly," Ballweg said. "Regardless of the situation call 911 right away."
Knowing how to escape the ice and prevent hypothermia in case of an emergency is important, but there are things that fishermen should consider before venturing onto the ice.
Snowmobiles and other off-road vehicles are frequently responsible for ice-related fatalities. The heavy, loud machines can break through ice with little warning for their operators.
"It is absolutely not safe to take a snowmobile or ORV out there," Ballweg said.
River crossings also present extra risks due to currents under the ice. Parents should be aware of the dangers of river and stream crossings and keep their children away from those areas.
Many deaths and near-drownings happen when dogs and other family pets wander onto dangerous ice and their owners try to retrieve them. Instead Ballweg recommends coaxing the animal back to safety.
If the ice breaks under a pet, owners should not attempt a rescue.
"If it can't hold the weight of your pet, it can't hold you," Ballweg said.