Lake Champlain Ice Safety
There are many activities that you can enjoy on Lake Champlain in the winter. From ice fishing to cross-country skiing, from snowmobiling to skating or kite-boarding – Lake Champlain offers a wealth of outdoor fun to enjoy safely. Here are some simple things to help keep your outing fun and safe.
Important Ice Facts
- New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly formed ice may support one single person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially thawed ice might not.
- Ice rarely freezes uniformly. It might be a foot thick in one place and only an inch or two just a few feet away.
- Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous. This is especially true near streams, bridges and culverts. Also, the ice outside river bends is usually weaker due to the undermining effects of the faster current.
- The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. The extra weight can also cut the amount of weight that the ice sheet can support. Also be aware that the ice near shore can be considerably weaker than ice that is farther out.
- Booming and cracking ice isn’t necessarily dangerous. It only means that the ice is expanding and contracting as the temperature changes.
- Schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl can also affect the relative safety of ice. The movement of fish can bring warm water up from the bottom of the lake. In the past, this has opened holes in the ice causing snowmobiles and cars to break through.
Recommended Minimum Ice Thickness
2″ or less – STAY OFF
4″ – Ice fishing, skiing, skating or other activities on foot
5″ – Snowmobile or ATV
8″ – 12″ – Car or small pickup
12″ – 15″ – Medium truck
Note: These guidelines are for new, clear solid ice.
There are many other factors than thickness that can make ice unsafe.
* White ice or “snow ice” is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Double the above thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice.
SAFETY TIPS FOR TRAVELING ON ICE
The following guidelines can help you make wise choices:
Test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel or spud, an ice auger or even a cordless 1/4 inch drill with a long bit.
- Avoid driving on ice when possible. If you must drive a vehicle, be ready to leave it in a hurry – keep the windows down and have a simple emergency plan of action that you’ve discussed with your passengers.
- Refrain from alcoholic beverages. Even a couple of beers are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life. And contrary to common belief, alcohol actually makes you colder and doesn’t warm you up.
- Don’t “overdrive” your snowmobile’s headlight. At 30 miles per hour, it can take a longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was traveling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated a hole in the ice.
Always bring two ice picks and wear them around your neck so that they are within quick reach. The ice picks really help pulling yourself back onto solid ice. It’s amazing how difficult it is to pull yourself back on the surface of wet, slippery ice while you’re wearing a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 lbs of water.
- Wear a personal flotation device (PFD) under your winter gear. Or wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits. Note: Do not wear a PFD when traveling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle.
Now, you’re ready to go. Get out on the ice and enjoy the Lake Champlain ice safely.
Essential Ice Fishing Safety Gear
With the arrival of winter, Lake Champlain’s hard water anglers have brought their ice augers out of storage. Before you bundle up and head out on the ice, review this checklist of essential ice fishing safety gear so your trip is fun and safe.
1. Ice cleats or creepers.
Ice cleats or creepers attach to the bottom of your boots. They can have adjustable straps or be rubber overshoes with metal teeth or spikes. They provide more traction on slippery ice and can help to prevent falls.
2. Ice chisel or spud
An ice chisel or spud is a long-handled blade that comes to a point on one side. You use an ice chisel to punch a hole through the ice before you take a step. This helps you to check the ice thickness.
3. Ice safety picks.
Ice safety picks are two spikes that are usually connected by a cord. The ice picks are stuck into the ice and used to pull you back onto the ice if you happen to fall through. Always bring two ice picks and wear them around your neck so that they are within quick reach.
4. Floating rescue rope.
A floating rescue rope can be used if someone falls through the ice. You can help them by throwing the rope to them from a safe distance. If you should fall through, throw one end of the floating rope to a rescuer.
5. Ice fishing suit.
Many ice anglers wear ice fishing suits or flotation suits to help to keep them warm, but the suits can also make it easier for you to climb out if you fall through the ice.
When spending cold days outdoors on the ice, a significant amount of body heat can be lost through the head. A thick hat that covers your ears is important to help keep body heat.
Mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves because they trap more body heat. If you wear base layer gloves underneath your mittens, you can just take your mittens off and still have your fingers free when you need to tie lines or take a fish off of a hook.
8. Hand warmers.
Hand warmers are a good way to help keep your hands warm during ice fishing season. Buy a pair of hand warmers to put into the pockets of your jacket or inside of your gloves.
10. Cell phone or radio.
You will need to have a cell phone or radio to make calls for help in the event of an emergency. If you plan to fish in a remote area, make sure you have a radio in case your cell phone won’t work. Pack cell phones and radios in sealed, moisture-proof bags.
You wouldn’t want to leave the dock without a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD) in the summer months, and winter shouldn’t be any different. Always bring a life jacket or personal flotation device with you when ice fishing.
Now, you’ve got your gear ready to go. Get out on the ice and enjoy your ice fishing safely.
Free Fishing Weekend February 18-19
The first of New York’s free fishing days for 2017 will be next weekend on Saturday, February 18 and Sunday, February 19.
On these days, New York residents and non-residents are allowed to fish for free without a fishing license.
Please note that fishing regulations remain in effect during these days.
Free fishing days provide an opportunity for new anglers who want to learn more about fishing, as well as, those interested in getting back into the sport.
Additional free fishing days in New York for 2017 include:
- June 24-25
- September 23 (National Hunting and Fishing Day)
- November 11 (Veterans Day)
If you’re new to ice fishing, download the Introduction to Ice Fishing chapter of NY DEC’s new I FISH NY Beginners’ Guide to Freshwater Fishing for information on how to get started with ice fishing. Additional information, including tips on ice fishing safety and a list of waters open to ice fishing, can be found at DEC’s ice fishing web page.
For Governor Cuomo’s press release on the upcoming Free Ice Fishing Weekend visit https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-free-fishing-days-new-york
Ice Fishing: Tightlining
One ice fishing technique you can try is called tightlining. Tightlining is a technique where you don’t move the line and lure once you’ve dropped them in the water. Instead you watch the line for movement. When the line becomes “tight” you know you have a fish on the line.
When tightlining, you’ll need to use a lure that is heavy enough to let your line to drop straight down to your desired depth, but not so heavy that your line won’t move when a fish strikes. This usually requires trial and error to find the right lure.
Some anglers add a spring bobber to their line to help with strike indication. A spring bobber is a piece of metal or wire that extends off the rod tip. Any movement in the line will cause the spring bobber to move alerting them of a bite.
Check the regulations for the specific body of water that you fish at the sites below!
- New York State Fishing Regulations
- State of Vermont Fishing Regulations
- Province of Quebec Fishing Regulations
- Milton, Vermont Angler Catches Muskie Through Ice
- Reminder to Remove Ice Shanties from Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department
- Essential Ice Fishing Safety Gear
- Ice Fishing: Tightlining
- Ice Fishing: Tip Ups