Ice Safety

Each winter, Nova Scotians dust off their snowmobiles, snowshoes, skis or skates for some fun in the snow. They often cross one of our province’s more than 3000 lakes or clear snow on an inlet to ice fish. Whatever your passion, it’s important to understand when it is safe to be on those frozen bodies of water and when it should be avoided. Naturally occurring ice is unpredictable. Never go on the ice alone! Make sure you have proper safety equipment with you at all times, and keep these tips in mind before you head out.

Ice Strength

Gauging the strength of ice is very difficult. There is no such thing as 100% safe ice.

  • Never walk or drive on cloudy ice.
  • Only go on clear, thick ice.
  • Spring ice is NEVER safe.
  • Ice thickness is never consistent: it will be flat on top, but not on the bottom.
  • Snow on ice acts as an insulator: it makes ice warmer and weaker.
  • Extreme cold snaps will weaken ice.
  • Ice formed over running water (rivers and streams) is more dangerous than ice formed over standing water (lakes and ponds).

The recommended minimum depth for activities on new, clear, hard ice is:

7 cm (3 in.) or less STAY OFF
10 cm (4 in.) ice fishing, walking, cross-country skiing
12 cm (5 in.) one snowmobile or ATV
20-30 cm (8-12 in.) one car or small pickup
30-38 cm (12-15 in.) one medium truck (pickup or van)

On the Ice: What to Bring

Taking the right gear is key to staying safe on the ice. Here are the essentials:

  • Appropriate clothing: layers, waterproof jacket/pants, warm hat, gloves and socks
  • Snowmobile floatation suit or life jacket/personal flotation device (PFD)
  • Appropriate footwear (e.g., crampons to convert footwear for use on ice)
  • Ice picks (stored in an accessible pocket where they will be easy to reach if needed)
  • Throw rope—and know how to use it!

Self-Rescue & Rescuing Others

Make sure you know how to escape if you break through ice, and how to help someone escape a similar situation. If you break though:

  • Do not panic. Your clothing will trap air and keep you buoyant.
  • Turn towards the direction you came from and place your hands and arms flat on the unbroken surface.
  • Kick your feet and try to push yourself up on top of the unbroken ice on your stomach, like a seal.
  • Once you are lying on the ice, don’t stand up. Roll away from the break until you are on solid ice.

If someone else breaks through:

  • Stay calm and think out a solution.
  • Don't run up to the hole. You might break through and then you’ll both need help.
  • Use an item to throw or extend to your friend to pull them out of the water—if you don’t have a rope, improvise with items such as jumper cables, skis, etc.
  • If you can't rescue the person immediately, call 911 on a cell phone.

For more safety tips on ice safety, please visit