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Ice Safety

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Ice Safety
Living in Canada means experiencing all four seasons.  The County of Barrhead has many natural bodies of water that attract sledders, ice fishers, skaters and so much more during winter months.  We hope residents and visitors can enjoy many outdoor activities each and every season.  However, we want to ensure outdoor enthusiasts remember to be cautious around frozen bodies of water.
Although fun and exciting, working or playing near bodies of water is especially hazardous during winter months.  Every year, people die from drowning or hypothermia after falling through ice.
The load bearing capacity of ice depends on:
  • the quality of ice
  • its thickness
  • ice and air temperatures, and
  • solar radiation
Look closely before setting foot on or near ice. 
Below, you will find an abundance of information to ensure that you are aware of what capacity ice has to hold you and any equipment. 


Strongest Ice Clear blue or blue-black and FREE of snow, air bubbles and debris
Weak Ice White, brittle, mixed with snow or filled with air bubbles
Suspect Ice Gray indicating presence of water as a result of thawing - cannot bear loads.

New ice is usually stronger than old ice as bonds between the crystals decay with age, making the ice weaker even if melting has not occurred.


Appearance is a good indicator of quality; however, the best way to determine if ice is safe, is to verify its thickness by cutting a hole in the ice.  Continuing to make more test holes as you move further away from shore will ensure you can be confident in the thickness of the ice.

Rivers   Lakes
Maximum every 50 feet (15 meters)  Maximum every 100 feet (30 meters)

Thickness Guide

Less than 3 inches (7.5 cm)   Avoid, it can break any time under the weight of an average person
3 to 5 inches (7.5 - 13 cm)  Capable of holding a person; groups should spread out.
6 to 8 inches (15 - 20 cm)  The minimum needed for group activity

Stationary Loads and Vehicles on Ice

Ice is constantly changing.  In addition to the characteristics of the ice mentioned above, the ability of the ice to support a load depends on:
  • the weight and distribution of the load(s) on the ice
  • an unintended stationary load on the ice (when a load "sits" or stops on the ice)
  • the speed of the vehicle
  • other traffic or loads on the ice
  • frequency of loads
  • continuous use areas (such as ice crossings, parking areas, bridge sites)
  • reduced ice thickness close to shoreline

Effective Ice Thickness For Moving Loads 

Note:  This table does not apply to parked loads, or where ice cracks are present.  This table is intended to provide guidance only.
 Permissible Load
(clear, blue ice)
 Effective ice thickness
   Lake  River
 Passenger Car 2000 kilograms  7 inches / 18 cm  8 inches / 21 cm
 Light truck 2500 kilograms  8 inches / 21 cm  9 inches / 23 cm
 Medium truck 3500 kilograms  10 inches / 26 cm  12 inches / 30 cm
 Heavy truck 7000 to 8000 kilograms  14 inches / 35 cm  16 inches / 41 cm
 10,000 kilograms  15 inches / 38 cm  17 inches / 44 cm
 25,000 kilograms  25 inches / 63 cm  29 inches / 73 cm
 45,000 kilograms  31 inches / 80 cm  36 inches / 92 cm
 70,000 kilograms  39 inches / 100 cm  45 inches / 115 cm
 110,000 kilograms  49 inches / 125 cm  57 inches / 144 cm
Vehicle speed should be reduced as ice thickness and water depth decrease.  Water pressure waves created beneath the ice by moving vehicles can affect the strength of ice.
Vehicle speeds should be less than 30 km/hr for safe passage on ice having the thicknesses shown in the table above, over water having a depth of less than 15 metres (45 feet).  Vehicle speeds should be less than 15 km/hr when approaching shore or travelling parallel and close to shore.


Effective Ice Thickness for Stationary Loads

Note:  This table applies to loads that will be stationary on ice for more than two hours.  This table is intended to provide guidance only.

 Permissible Load
(clear, blue ice)
 Effective ice thickness
   Lake  River
 1,000 kilograms  8 inches / 20 cm  9 inches / 23 cm
 2,000 kilograms  12 inches / 30 cm  14 inches / 35 cm
 4,000 kilograms  18 inches / 45 cm  20 inches / 52 cm
 8,000 kilograms  24 inches / 60 cm  27 inches / 69 cm
 25,000 kilograms  43 inches / 110 cm  50 inches / 127 cm
 45,000 kilograms  59 inches / 150 cm  68 inches / 173 cm
 70,000 kilograms  71 inches / 180 cm  82 inches / 207 cm
 110,000 kilograms  91 inches / 230 cm  104 inches / 265 cm

Under thawing temperatures where the average air temperature exceeds 8 degrees Celsius, increase the required ice thickness given in the tables by 20 percent or reduce the allowable weight by one-third.

Temperature Variations

Daily air temperatures must be constant over a given period so that ice thickness will withstand the permissible loads outlined in the tables above.
During a sudden drop in temperature and for three to five days following such a drop, the minimum ice thickness should be adjusted as shown below.  If the temperature drop is excessive, severe thermal stressing or cracking of hte ice will require caution and temporary load restrictions.
If the temperature drop is:
  • 5 degrees Celsius or less - multiply the minimum ice thickness by a factor of 1.4
  • 5 to 10 degrees Celsius - multiply the minimum ice thickness by a factor of 2.0
  • 10 degrees Celsius or more - multiply the minimum ice thickness by a factor of 2.4

Basic Ice Safety Practices 

  • Never go alone or attempt to rescue a victim of ice failure alone
  • stay away from cracks, seams, pressure ridges, slushy areas and darker areas that signify thinner ice
  • listen for loud cracks or booms coming from the ice and know what they indicate
  • always wear a life jacket or personal flotation devide (PFD) over an ordinary snowmobile suit or layered winter clothing
  • Never wear a life jacket when traveling across ice in an enclosed vehicle as it can hamper escape in case of a breakthrough

If you get into trouble and you're by yourself:

  • Call for help
  • Resist the immediate urge to climb back out where you fell in
  • Use air trapped in your clothing to get into a floating position on your stomach
  • Reach forward onto the broken ice without pushing down, kick your legs to push your torso onto the ice
  • When back on the ice, crawl on your stomach or roll away from the open area with arms and legs spread out as far as possible to distribute body weight
  • Do not stand up!  Look for shore and make sure you are going in the right direction

When you are with others:

  • Rescuing another person from ice can be dangerous, perform the rescue from shore
  • Call for help either from trained professionals and bystanders
  • Check if you can reach the person using a long pole or branch from shore - if so, lie down and extend the pole to the person
  • If you go on ice, wear a PFD and carry a long pole or branch to test the ice in front of you whil carrying something to throw to the person
  • When near the break, lie down to distribute weight and slowly crawl to the hole
  • Remaining low, extend or throw your emergency rescue device to the person
  • Have the person kick while pulling them out, then move the person to a safe position on shore or where you are sure the ice is thick
Source:   Government of Alberta, Work Safe Alberta.  (2008).  Travelling, Standing and Working on Ice Requires Caution [PDF File].  Retrieved from