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Ice Fishing Guide - Rescue Techniques

Home | Equipment | Baits and Lures | Finding Fish | Ice Conditions | Rescue Techniques

A Chilling Assignment - NEBRASKAland Article on Ice Safety

Watch a Video: Eric Fowler's Ice Break Through


Despite all the precautions that anglers take, a few go through the ice each year and all ice anglers should know something about rescue techniques and first aid for hypothermia.

Drowning is one immediate danger, But usually the victims are able to keep their heads above water by clinging to the edge of the broken ice or to floating gear. Most fatalities are caused by hypothermia, a rapid, drastic lowering of body temperature which causes loss of the use of limbs, disorientation, unconsciousness and, finally, heart failure.

Victims have only a few minutes to extract themselves from the water before their hands become too stiff to use. use. Then they must depend on rescue by others. Survival time in the water varies from about 20 minutes to as much as 90 minutes. If the victim is large and wearing a lot of clothing, and if he remains still, keeps his head and neck out of the water and draws his knees and arms into his chest, he will minimize heat loss and lengthen survival time. A thin person, or one who struggles, will succumb to hypothermia more quickly.

Some anglers carry spikes in easy-to-reach pockets or on strings attached to the sleeves of their coats. Dug into the slick, wet ice at the edge of a hole, they can help a victim crawl out of the water. In an emergency you can also get a grip on the ice with a pocket knife, a gaff or the ice cleats from your boots. Once out of the water, crawl or roll back along your path to safe ice.

If you see someone go through the ice, be extremely careful attempting a rescue. You don't want to end up in the water, too. Reach for the victim with your ice auger, fishing poles or anything of adequate length that lets you remain out of danger. Remove your belt or other clothing and fashion a rope to reach the victim. If more people are available to help, form a human chain to reach the person in trouble.

When the victim is removed from the water, it is imperative that first aid begin as soon as possible. Until the victim is removed from the cold environment, body temperature will continue to drop as the vital organs cool, adjusting to the colder surrounding tissue.

Generally, in mild cases of hypothermia first aid procedures consist of shelter, dry clothing and, only if victim is conscious and alert, hot liquids. Under no circumstances should the victim be given alcoholic beverages which diminish shivering, thus reducing heat production. Alcohol also causes dilation of surface blood vessels, causing more heat loss.

Do not rub the victim's skin. A condition called after-drop is at least a potential problem in all cases of hypothermia. After-drop is the continued decline of core body temperature even after rescue as the relatively warm core continues to lose heat to the cold outer body tissue.

The risk of after-drop is increased by premature exercise or warming of the extremities. The physiological result of a sudden influx of cold blood may cause the core temperature to drop to a level that could be fatal, even after a successful rescue. Insulate the victim's trunk, head and neck from additional heat loss and transport them to a medical facility as soon as possible.

Fortunately, rescue and first aid are very seldom necessary. However, since the sport is constantly attracting newcomers and since even veterans are subject to occasional human error, it's best that anglers be prepared for any unexpected situation and learn emergency measures even though they may never have to apply them.

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