Ice Safety


"Thick and blue, tried and true.
Thin or crispy, way too risky."

Amesbury is well known for its abundance of water resources, perfect for year-round recreation. For many people living in Amesbury, working or playing on the frozen surface of a river or lake is a normal part of winter. However, knowing how to do so safely can be a matter of life or death; and anyone considering venturing out on the ice should remember that regardless of how cold it is or how thick you think the ice may be, it is the experience of both Fire and Rescue experts and that of the Coast Guard that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SAFE ICE.

The table of ice strength presented below by Mass. Wildlife is for the benefit of ice anglers and other winter sports people. "The figures are for clear, blue ice on lakes and ponds. Reduce strength values 15% for clear blue, river ice. Slush or snow (white) ice is only one-half the strength of blue ice and can be very treacherous. "Honeycombed" ice, which occurs in the spring or during major winter thaws as the ice is melting, is the most dangerous ice, and best avoided unless the angler is certain there is a safe layer of solid ice beneath the honeycombed surface. Anglers should also be aware that many lakes and ponds contain spring holes and other areas of current that may create deceptively dangerous thin spots in areas that are otherwise safe. Always use caution, and don't venture out onto unfamiliar waters without checking ice thickness frequently." Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law Enforcement

Ice Thickness Table

(inches) and Possible Load (clear, blue, lake ice)
  • 2" One person on foot
  • 3" Group, in single file
  • 5" Group (6-8 people) together
  • 7½" Passenger car (2 ton gross)
  • 8" Light truck (2½ ton gross)
  • 10" Medium truck (3½ ton gross)
  • 12" Heavy truck (7 to 8 ton gross)
  • 15" 10 tons
  • 20" 25 tons
  • 25" 45 tons
  • 30" 70 tons

This is a reference guide provided by the State, however the Town of Amesbury advises that no ice is ever considered safe.

Please note that Snowmobiles and ATV's need at least 5 inches, and cars and light trucks need at least 8-12 inches of good clear ice.

Residents should avoid driving on the ice whenever possible. Traveling in a vehicle, especially early or late in the season is simply "an accident waiting to happen."

Remember! Ice on moving water is treacherous and should be avoided. Each lake in town has moving water in its center, and the area around any dam or culvert is extremely unstable. All water control structures are restricted and access is prohibited.

If you are planning to venture out onto the ice, keep these simple guidelines in mind to help ensure your safety:
  • It's impossible to judge the strength of ice by its appearance, thickness, daily temperature, or snow cover alone. Ice strength is actually dependent on all four factors, plus water depth under the ice, the size of the water and water chemistry, currents, and distribution of the load on the ice.
  • River ice and lake ice can vary in thickness throughout the winter and in different parts of the river or lake. Do not assume uniform ice thickness.
  • Ice thickness is not always an accurate measure of its strength. Crackage and sudden temperature drops can severely weaken ice.
  • Heavy snow cover insulates the ice, drastically reduces ice growth and can cause overflow.
  • Tell someone where you are going and how long you plan to be on the ice.
  • Wear a life jacket, because after all, there is going to be water under your feet. Life vests or float coats provide excellent flotation and protection from hypothermia (loss of body temperature).
  • Carry devices to signal for help, such as auto flares, a marine radio, a cellular phone, a whistle, or any light source.
  • Before you walk out on the ice until there are at least 4 inches of clear, solid ice. *Thinner ice will support one person, but since ice thickness can vary considerably, especially at the beginning and end of the season, 4 inches will provide a margin of safety. Some factors that can change ice thickness include flocks of waterfowl and schools of fish. By congregating in a small area, fish can cause warmer water from the bottom towards the surface, weakening or in some cases opening large holes in the ice.
  • Carry a pair of homemade ice picks or even a pair of screwdrivers tied together with a few yards of strong cord that can be used to pull yourself up and onto the ice if you do fall in.
  • Go out with a buddy and keep a good distance apart as you walk out. If one of you goes in the other can call for help. Use a cell phone to call 911 and request properly equipped emergency rescue personnel. The companion can also attempt a rescue if one of you are carrying rope or other survival gear.
  • Do not cross cracks with open water.
  • Check at the access point to see if there are signs that indicate a dangerous ice condition. The ice can be weakened many yards beyond where the ice is actually open. Stay well outside any areas indicated by thin ice signs.
  • Above all, avoid alcoholic beverages. Drinking alcohol increases your chances for hypothermia and increases the likelihood that you'll make a mistake that will cost you or a companion their life.

WHAT DO I DO IF I FALL IN?

As with any emergency, DON'T PANIC! Call for help. It doesn't take long for the cold water to start slowing your physical and mental functions, so you must act quickly. Air will remain trapped in your clothes for a short time aiding your buoyancy. Kick your legs while grasping for firm ice. Try to pull your body up. Once your torso is on firm ice, roll towards thicker ice, spreading yourself across the ice to better distribute your weight. Remember: ice you have previously walked on should be the safest. After you reach safe ice, don't waste precious time! You need to warm up as quick as you can to prevent hypothermia. Seek help and shelter immediately.

Remember, only you are responsible for your own safety.

Thank you to Mass Wildlife for permission to reprint much of the above content.