It’s been a tragic week on Maine’s frozen lakes.
On Saturday, two men ended up in Crawford Pond in Warren after their ATV broke through the ice, and one man had to be rescued by a deputy.
And on Wednesday night, an Orland man and his dog died when his pickup fell through the ice on Alamoosook Lake.
The incidents have at least one thing in common. Vehicles broke through the ice.
While it’s common practice among many Mainers to take ATVs, snowmobiles and even automobiles onto frozen lakes and ponds, doing so certainly comes at a potential cost to safety.
Earlier this week, Maine’s conservation agencies — the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, issued some safety tips that deserve a second look.
First, from Matthew LaRoche, the superintendent of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway:
— Check the thickness of the ice. It does not take very long to chop a hole in the ice with an ax or chisel. I usually chop until I can see at least 6 inches of good dark ice. Six inches of ice is enough to support 4,000 pounds, according to the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory.
— To minimize your risk on frozen lakes, you should check with the rangers or wardens who patrol the area where you plan to take a trip. They will know the current ice conditions and give you advice concerning areas that should be avoided.
— On large, interconnected lakes, some hazard areas to avoid are thoroughfares, inlets, outlets, pressure ridges and spring holes. Basically, anywhere there is moving water should be avoided because moving water will not freeze as easily as standing water.
— Bring some basic safety equipment on your winter excursions on frozen lakes. My emergency equipment includes a throw bag for pulling someone else out of the water and the “picks of life” for pulling myself out of the water. These are nothing more than ice picks with a retractable cover over the sharp end. A couple of good-sized spikes will serve the same purpose. Also pack matches in a watertight container, a compass and a small first aid kit.
— One of the most important things you can do for your safety when embarking on any outdoor adventure is tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to return. This will help rangers and wardens find you when you really need help.
And from the DIF&W:
— Never guess the thickness of the ice — check it. Check the ice in several different places using an auger or some other means to make a test hole and determine the thickness. Make several, beginning at the shore and continuing as you go out.
— Check the ice with a partner, so if something does happen, someone is there to help you. If you are doing it alone, wear a life jacket.
— If ice at the shoreline is cracked or squishy, stay off. Watch out for thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and dark ice are other signs of weak spots.
— Avoid areas with currents, around bridges and pressure ridges. Wind and currents can break the ice.
— Adults should alert children of unsafe ice in their area, and make sure that they stay off the ice. If they insist on using their new skates, suggest an indoor skating rink.
If you break through the ice, remember:
— Don’t panic.
— Don’t try to climb out immediately — you will probably break the ice again. Reach for solid ice.
— Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. Once on the ice, roll — do not walk — to safety.
— To help someone who has fallen through the ice, lie down flat and reach with a branch, plank or rope or form a human chain. Do not stand. After securing the victim, wiggle backward to the solid ice.