While frozen ponds, lakes and waterways look pretty and appear solid, there is no way of knowing how thick the ice is at any point, so you should never venture out on the surface.
Especially in the winter, the water temperature can be cold enough to take your breath away, which can easily lead to panic and drowning. The coldness can make your arms and legs numb, which means you can’t control them and can’t swim. It can also lead to hypothermia – serious reduction in your body temperature – which can cause heart failure. This happens to even the strongest swimmers!
- Never venture onto frozen water. Even if it appears thick from the bank, it becomes thinner very quickly.
- Don’t wander too near the edge, icy or wet conditions could cause you to slip and fall in.
- Don’t be tempted to test the thickness of the ice; it’s easy to slip from the bank and fall through into the freezing water.
- Make sure your children understand how dangerous it is to play on ice.
- Adults should set a good example by staying off the ice themselves.
- Alcohol and open water can be a lethal combination – keep well away from the edge of open water if you have been drinking alcohol.
Dog owners should be particularly careful around frozen water – keep your pet on a lead, and don’t throw sticks or balls onto the ice. Should a dog go onto the ice and get into difficulty, you should never attempt to carry out a rescue, call 999 for help – over 50% of ice related drownings involve the attempted rescue of a dog!
If you see someone fall through the ice:
- Shout for assistance and call 999.
- Stay off the ice.
- Shout to the casualty to keep still.
- Try and reach them from the bank using a rope, pole, a tree branch, clothing tied together or anything else that extends your reach.
- When reaching for the bank, lie down to avoid being pulled onto the ice.
- If you cannot reach them, slide something that floats like a rescue buoy across the ice for them to hold on to stay afloat.
- If the casualty is out of reach, wait for the emergency services while calming and reassuring them.
After the casualty has been rescued from the ice:
- Make sure an ambulance is on its way.
- Lay them flat, check their breathing and pulse and begin resuscitation if necessary.
- Prevent them from getting colder by putting them in a sleeping bag or covering them (including their head) with blankets or spare clothing.
- Get them under shelter out of the cold.
- Until the casualty is in a warm place, do not undress them.
- Do not rub their skin, apply hot water or give them an alcoholic drink.
- Keep them wrapped up so that they warm up gradually.
If you fall through the ice:
- Keep calm and call for help.
- If no help is available, spread your arms across the surface of the ice.
- If the ice is strong enough, kick your legs and slide onto the ice.
- Lie flat and try to pull yourself to the bank.
- If the ice is very thin, break it in front of you and make your way to the shore.
- If you cannot climb out, wait for help, keeping as still as possible.
- Press your arms by your side and keep your legs together.
- Once you are safe, go to hospital immediately for a check-up.
Further advice can be found on the ROSPA website.