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Ice Fishing Safety Tips

To some, a day spent ice fishing represents the epitome of boredom. To them, it means sitting in a cold shack in the middle of a lake staring down mindlessly for hours at a hole one has laboriously drilled through the ice. Two thousand of Canadians, though, even an unproductive day of “hard water” angling instead represents a quiet escape (don’t frighten the fish away) from everyday stress and routine and relief from winter doldrums.


Whatever one’s view of its merits, as with virtually any outdoor winter recreational activity, there are dangers associated with ice fishing. According to the Lake Ice website, ice fishing accidents were responsible for around 15% of the 52 fatal accidents during the 2017 ice season in North America. Not surprisingly, most of those occurred when fishermen misjudged the thickness of ice and fell into the frigid lake water below. Research into hypothermia survival rates referenced by the U.S. Search and Rescue Task Force found that in water just above zero degrees Celsius, the average person’s survival time is under two hours. Since fatigue and unconsciousness may set in after as little as 15 minutes, however, the victim may die by drowning much more quickly.


Ice fishing in British Columbia is perhaps a little more complicated than in other provinces by B.C.’s diverse climates. Winter temperatures near the Pacific coastal tend to be warmer than those in the interior, where colder, drier air is more favorable to safe ice formation.


Wherever your ice fishing travels may take you in B.C., however, you can reduce the chances of a tragedy by observing a few common-sense rules:

 

Ice Thickness – In general, anything less than about four inches of clear or so-called “black” ice is hazardous. Remember, the ice must support not only your weight and that of your companions but also your hut, a heater, and all your tackle.


Before you venture out, see whether others are already in position, and, if there’s a tackle shop open nearby, ask the operator or other locals what ice conditions are like.


When venturing out to check ice thickness, drill test holes every few yards. Avoid areas where water is moving, as the ice tends to be weaker there.  


Safety and Rescue Equipment – Should you fall through, a protective suit will preserve body heat longer that ordinary winter clothing, and an approved flotation vest can keep you on the surface facing upward (that is, able to continue breathing) even if you become unconscious.


While it is possible for some fit and experienced persons to climb out of the water without assistance after falling through, carrying a sturdy pair of ice rescue spikes at all times is strongly advisable. You can purchase a quality pair for less than CDN$30. If you are thrifty and want to show off your woodworking skills, there are also step-by-step tutorials available online. Chances are your buddies will be after you to make them a pair.  

Fish Only in the Daytime, and Never Alone – As much as you may enjoy the quiet and solitude of solo fishing, observing the “buddy system” can mean the difference between life and death. Also, be sure a family member or friend who is not accompanying you is aware of where you are and when you expect to return.   

But Don’t Get Too Close, Either – When venturing out, members of your party should walk single file with a few yards space between the persons ahead and behind. Before auguring your hole, be sure you are a respectable distance away from any neighbors.  

 

Avoid Excessive Alcohol Consumption – For many anglers, fishing and drinking are inseparable activities. However, excessive alcohol consumption can impair your judgment and motor skills as well as cause your body to lose warmth more quickly. Save the drinks for when you are sharing fish tales in the local pub.

 

Safeguard Your Fishing Hole – And not just against other anglers. This is really about protecting others from harm (however unlikely) and yourself from possible legal liability. While it is rare for anyone to fall through an ice fishing hole, as was reported by the CBC, in 2016 a conservation group in Alberta Province reminded ice fishermen of their duties under Section 263 of the Canadian Criminal Code.

 

While the risk of criminal or even civil liability may be remote, Section 263 clearly does require anyone who makes an opening in ice open to or frequented by others must take steps to guard it in a way that will prevent them from falling in and to warn them of the opening’s presence. An “indoor” fisherman can presumably put a lock on his or her hut, but it’s not clear what an open ice angler must do to satisfy the law.  

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Call Diamond and Diamond Lawyers in Vancouver today on our 24/7 free consultation at 1-800-567-HURT (4878) or visit one of our locations here.

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