Is Ice Fishing Dangerous? How to Stay Safe While On The Ice

January 29, 2021

Is Ice Fishing Dangerous? How to Stay Safe While On The Ice

As far as sports go, ice fishing is considered a hazardous sport. But given the right precautions are taken, ice fishing can be done in a safe way. For the most part, ice fishing precautions can be chalked down to common sense. But, there are other more technical precautions that you can take to maximize both your safety and success. So is ice fishing dangerous?

The short answer is yes, ice fishing can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared. You run the risk of falling through thin ice or getting too cold.

Accidents in ice fishing tend to be the result of silly behavior and risks that are foolish. And when an accident does occur, you should know how to act effectively, as safe as possible. 

There are two golden rules when it comes to ice fishing. When they aren’t followed, you can be almost sure that accidents will happen:

  1. Be prepared
  2. Don’t take foolish risks. 

Ice Fishing: The Thrill

Anglers love the sport, and as such, will usually want to do it all year round. There has been a recent uptick in ice fishing interest. Is ice fishing dangerous? Yes, but it can also be very fun.

Are you interested in ice fishing? Surveys show that whether in remote wilderness or town lakes, ice fishing is becoming a hot trend. 

While it can be fun to bring your family along for day ice fishing, remember that it can be dangerous. When the correct precautions are taken, you can avoid most of the major disasters that can occur while ice fishing:

  • Hypothermia
  • Frostbite
  • Falling through the ice and injuries that may result

Knowing what you might face out on the ice is part of being prepared. The more experienced ice fishermen may know what to expect. But if you are a novice, then there a few subtle dangers that could become problematic:

Ice Color

While most people will think to check the thickness, not many are aware that they should be observant of the ice color. If you want to know the ice’s quality, take a look at the color. 

The safest color you should target is clear ice. Clear blue ice is the strongest type of ice and has the highest tolerance level. So, this is the type of ice to seek out when you want to walk or drive on the ice. 

If you encounter white ice, you should ensure that it is the proper thickness before you walk on it. White ice is not as strong as the clear blue ice, as we mentioned before. But, if it is thick enough, it should be alright to walk on it. A good rule of thumb with white ice is that it should be at least twice as thick as the clear blue ice. 

Whenever you are walking on ice, you should continuously be checking it as you go. Stay present with how the ice feels under your steps and how the ice sounds as you walk. Ice thickness can vary along the shelves, so stay present and be mindful of your environment. If you begin to hear the ice crack, stop walking in that direction. Leave the area slowly and carefully. 

Suppose you encounter grey ice that appears to look dirty, retreat! Grey ice is dangerous. 

Water Currents

Another less obvious danger that you might encounter while ice fishing is the currents. Before you embark on an ice fishing trip, you should know the area and the water before you leave. Are you more familiar with the area? Then you can identify moving bodies of water under the ice, such as frozen rivers, channels, streams, etc. 

These areas of the ice will naturally be thinner in thickness, and therefore pose a more significant threat to your safety. But if you can read the ice’s thickness, you can determine whether or not the ice is safe to walk on. If you see a lake or moving body of water that has water flowing into it, it will not be safe. Do not even attempt to find a thick piece to walk on. 

Currents and moving water underneath the hardened surface will cause a loss of 10 – 20 % of its thickness. This thinner ice will be more vulnerable to weight, so as a general rule, just avoid moving water underneath the ice.

Carbon Monoxide and Burns

Ice burns may not be on a novice’s mind, and that’s why we should mention them. When you’re out for hours on the ice, it’s only natural to use a heater. Especially if you’re trying to get some feeling back into your fingers. Many ice fishing tents are installed with heaters, helping to keep you and your tent nice and warm. 

While a heater can make a world of difference, it can also become a danger if they are faulty or not intended for use indoors. Only specific indoor heaters should be used in your ice fishing tent. Heaters that are not certified for indoor use could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

And the worst part? You won’t even know that it is happening until you already begin to feel the effects of the poisoning. Even if your heater is certified for indoor use, be wary if you develop headaches, become nauseous, overly fatigued, or sleepy.

If you feel any of the symptoms we mentioned, get some fresh air right away. Or better yet, check your heater before you go. Checking that your heater is not faulty and is safe should be on par with checking your rods and reels for ice fishing. 

When using a heater in your ice fishing tent, ensure you read the instructions thoroughly and keep your tent well ventilated. 

Another tip worth mentioning, despite its obviousness, is that your heater should not be in contact with the tent’s material. If the heater is in contact with the material, the tent could catch alight. 


Surrounded by water and ice, dehydration might be the last thing on your mind. Especially since you’re not doing anything, right? Wrong. 

When your body is cold, it burns up the energy to try to maintain a healthy temperature. Some sweat as soon as they start to shiver, and this is the body’s way of regulating and managing temperature. So, remember to pack enough drinking water for your fishing trip. 

Another thing you may not initially expect is that the environment itself will dehydrate you. Humid air has plenty of water content, so in humid climates drying out from the air is not a reality. But when you go ice fishing, you are far from a humid type of air. Instead, the cold, dry air will barrage you.

This dry air will hasten the process of dehydration, so be prepared and have water at hand. Keep yourself hydrated with regular, small sips of water. 

Fishing After Dark

Nighttime ice fishing is fun. It is adventurous to be out in the dark, navigating by starlight and torchlight. But. as with most adventurous ventures, it can heighten the danger as well. If you are unfamiliar with icy terrain, it might be best to do your first ice fishing escapades in the daylight hours. 

Avoid ice fishing in the dark when you are unfamiliar with the area and the terrain. Remember, you still need to find your way back home. In the spirit of being prepared, you should have a GPS to guide you. Also have a phone with you (with a full battery, of course), so that you can call for assistance should you get lost. 

We’ve outlined some of the more subtle dangers that novice ice fishermen might not expect to encounter. Now, let’s look at some tips to improve your ice fishing escapades’ safety profile. 

Safety Tips

Reduce the chances of an accident by following these safety tips:

Be Prepared

We’ve already said that you need to be fully prepared for all aspects of ice fishing. When it comes to safety, preparation is vital. Make a list of all the essentials that you will need to take with you. 

Check Ice Thickness

You do not want to be walking on ice that is thinner than 4 inches. Ideally, you should find ice that is thicker than 4 inches. If you are driving a snowmobile or an ATV, then the ice should be at least 7 inches.

And what if you are driving a car? A safe ice thickness for driving is at least 10cm. A small truck should never drive on ice that is less than 15 inches. Remember that if the ice is white (instead of clear), you should double the minimum thickness. 

Protect Against Frostbite

Use a quality pair of warm, waterproof gloves. Boots should also be waterproof and should provide a warm protective layer for your feet. Be prepared and wear multiple layers that can protect you from frostbite.

Keep your nose protected from frostbite by using a facemask. 

Have the Right Equipment

You should never leave on an ice fishing trip without your ice pick. You can also use a creeper to help you walk safely over the ice. You should also have a proper ice fishing suit and a cordless drill for drilling through the ice along with an auger bit.

Never leave for ice fishing without informing at least one person. This is especially pertinent for those that go on ice fishing alone.

Always tell at least one person where you plan on ice fishing and what time you should be back safely. If you are in a new place, you should venture out and chat with the locals before you go ice fishing in unfamiliar territory. Friendly locals can always be found in local fishing stores.

We also recommend using an ice fishing reel with ice fishing line as opposed to a traditional reel.

And lastly, keep your phone and a GPS with you. Ensuring your phone is fully charged could potentially be your only lifeline if you are met with an accident on the ice. 


Ice fishing is a rewarding sport, and while it may not be for everyone, it is rising in popularity. Preparation goes a long way in making ice fishing as safe as possible. But having quality equipment is priceless.

If you have fishing and safety equipment that you can rely on, you already have part of the safety sorted. We hope you enjoyed this article on is ice fishing dangerous.

Have fun out there- but remember to keep it safe!

Happy Hunting!

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