CONCORD — With the Massachusetts and New Hampshire school vacations over the next two weeks, thousands of snowmobilers, ice anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts will be recreating in the Granite State.
While dozens of lakes and ponds across the state have safe ice conditions for winter activities, state Fish and Game Department Conservation Officers want to stress that there are numerous areas across the state, particularly on our largest lakes — like Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam, Newfound and others — that have large areas of either open water or thin, unsafe ice. Some parts of these and other lakes and ponds may have over 18 inches of solid ice, while ice may be less than an inch thick — or non-existent — on other sections of the same waterbody.
"It is imperative that you personally check the ice thickness across an entire waterbody before you venture out on foot or on a snowmobile or off-highway recreational vehicle," said Major John Wimsatt, who coordinates OHRV Enforcement and Safety Education for Fish and Game. "Do not assume that just because the ice is safe in one location, that it will be safe 100 feet farther away. If you don't know, don't go."
Wimsatt adds that you should also be sure to bring along a rescue rope, ice picks and a personal flotation device such as a typical life preserver (or wear specialty clothing designed specifically to float the user).
Because of the unpredictable ice conditions, it is not advisable to drive vehicles onto the ice. Those on foot should carefully assess ice safety before venturing out by using an ice chisel or auger to determine ice 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. See a short video of how to check ice thickness at www.wildnh.com/outdoor-recreation/ice-safety.html.
Though all ice is potentially dangerous, the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, 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 all-terrain vehicle travel.
Keep in mind that thick ice does not always mean safe ice. 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.
• Don't assume a snowmobile trail is safe just because it exists; ask about trail conditions at local snowmobile clubs or sporting goods shops before you go.
• Remember that 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 or drive large vehicles onto the ice.
• If you do break through the ice, do not 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 help you pull yourself out if you do fall through the ice; 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.