Is the Ice Really Safe?

Is the Ice Really Safe?

It it really safe to be out on Devil’s Lake right now?  Probably not and it’s not going to get any safer anytime soon as high temperatures will push near 50F this weekend.

Now with that said, I started a bit of a controversy yesterday on Facebook by posting this photo (Above) and suggesting that it was not safe to be on the lake.  While many agreed, some felt that I and others didn’t know what we were talking about and that no one actually was out on the ice to know. Of course, most of the detractors were not out on Devil’s Lake either. The bigger issue of course is that beyond the Facebook hipshots, the important thing to know is, IS IT SAFE?. So I’d like to address that just a bit.


First of all, Ice is NEVER safe.  Various folks and officials offer guidelines.  It is generally agreed that at 3″ to 4″ of ice is safe for a person to walk on. 5″ is safe for a snowmobile. Cars & trucks require 8″ to 15″ to stay aloft.  However, there is a lot of variability out there. Here’s a quote from the Wisconsin DNR’s Ice Safety content;

“When is Ice Safe? There really is no sure answer, and no such thing as 100 percent safe ice. You cannot judge the strength of ice by one factor like its appearance, age, thickness, temperature or whether the ice is covered with snow. Ice strength is based on a combination of several factors, and they can vary from water body to water body. Ice strength can also vary in different areas of the same body of water. –

The point is of course, that you can’t simply say 4″ inch ice is safe.  You need to know about your body of water, currents, weather and other factors.


There’s this from the last Wisconsin DNR outdoor report on Dec. 4th “With 4 to 5 inches of ice on most lakes across the Northwoods, ice fishing season has begun. However, some of the larger lakes have only an inch or two of ice and early season ice is quite variable.”   Keep in mind that Devil’s Lake State Park is NOT in the northwoods….

Add to this that the weather has warmed up recently, and it all adds up to suggest that, caution is the better part of ice fishing valor!

Ice on Devil's Lake

Ice on Devil’s Lake. Dec 9th, 2014


This brings me to my comments on Facebook that it’s not wise to be on the ice at Devil’s Lake right now.  You see, I actually did check the ice personally and had a good conversation with the guys in the photo. By their own estimate the ice they were on was about 3″ thick. I checked a drill hole nearby and and it was 2″ if I’m generous.  What’s more, there is open water growing again in the middle of the lake. Add to this that the only inlet to the lake, Messenger Creek enters the lake at the same location as these guys were fishing.  You see, there are a variety of factors which make being out there, in their location right now, well, questionable.  In my conversation with these guys they hadn’t realized that there was open water so near where they were fishing and they hadn’t thought about the stream so near by and how even a mild current may undermine ice quality.  Now, given my past experience as an EMT with some wilderness first aid experience and years of navigating ice by sea kayak under my belt, I’m a bit cautious when it comes to assuming something is “safe”.

Now certainly, the time will come when it will be pretty safe to drive right out there in the old 2 ton 4×4, but that time is not now.  You see, the point is not to argue over who is the real “outdoorsman”, but to keep everyone safe.  If we have a winter where no one and no vehicles need to be pulled from the ice, we all win.

Stay safe out there!


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