Gentleman's Handbook, Vol. 9.5: Survive a Fall Through Ice

Because death-by-ice-drowning is not on your bucket list

By The Editors

How to Fall Through Ice, Live to Tell About It
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25 January 2016

This is the Gentleman’s Handbook, a recurring series on all the lemons life’s fixing to hand you and how to prepare accordingly. This month: Winter Survival.

There’s only one way to truly test whether a plane of ice can support you. But it doesn’t always end well.

You may think you know the drill should the worst happen: strip, scramble out and run back to dry land, right?

Wrong.

According to the United States Swim School Association (USSSA), the foremost swim school organization in the country, “It’s never a good idea to walk onto a frozen lake without following the proper protocols, like knowing how long it takes, and what temperature must be hit for that body of water to freeze.”

Yet every year, plenty of intrepid pond trotters tempt fate. If you’re one of them, there is in fact a right way to respond should you take the plunge. Learn it.

Brace Yourself and Keep Calm
To avoid going into shock, don’t gasp for air or you may begin to hyperventilate, and taking in freezing water will only hurt your chances of getting out of there unscathed. Likewise, thrashing your limbs will cause you to expend precious body heat, which is dangerous: you lose 32 times the amount of heat in cold water as you do in cold air.

Don’t Strip
As long as you’re in the water, your clothes are an asset. They’ll hold in body heat and help you float.

Get Horizontal and Roll onto the Ice
Pull yourself out on the ice in the direction you came from, which should be strong enough to support you. Get as much of your upper body on to the ice as you can, and kick your legs to propel the rest of your body out. Do not try to stand up — your body will be in shock, and the ice could be weakening; it’s better to roll over the ice to distribute your weight.

Go Back Where You Came From
Now’s not the time to forge a new path, even if it looks like a shortcut. Once you’re clear of the hole, focus on moving slowly and sure-footedly back to the shore.

Don’t Be a Hero
That is to say, never jump in to save someone. The USSSA says when it comes to pulling your buddy out of the water, “Just remember: throw, don’t go. Use your coat, a branch or anything you can find for them to grab onto. Otherwise, you could both end up in the water.”

Warm Up
Needless to say, you’re gonna need to get warmed up right away, and you may require medical attention. Now would be the time to ditch any wet clothes, as they will only accelerate the loss of body heat once you’re in the freezing air.

Oh, and a good rule of thumb for avoiding this situation altogether? The USSSA does not recommend walking or fishing on any ice that is less than three inches thick (for driving, it’s more than twice that).

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