One of the most popular winter activities is ice skating. Here in Halifax there are lots of options for skating: indoor arenas, outdoor rinks, the Oval, and ponds and lakes. Staying safe when skating on frozen bodies of water means being prepared for the cold, knowing the environment, and knowing what to do if an emergency arises. Cold-related injuries like frostbite and hypothermia are usually preventable, especially if the proper precautions are taken.
A few things to do to be prepared for a cold day on the ice:
1) Know how to stay warm:
Dress in warm layers. Your base layer should be a sweat-wicking material like wool or synthetic materials like polyester or microfiber-based fabrics. This base layer will keep your skin dry, which helps to keep you warm. A mid layer should provide additional insulation and warmth, like fleece, down, or synthetic filler. Wool works well as a mid-layer as well. An outer layer should be water and/or windproof to keep you warm and dry.
Another thing to keep in mind when dressing for the cold is to keep your major heat-loss areas covered. This includes your head, neck, armpits and groin, so don’t forget your hat and scarf!
2) Check the thickness of the ice:
Ice needs to be thick enough to hold your own weight, or the weight of a group of people. The thickness of the ice will vary throughout the winter, and will depend on the body of water (depth, size, movement of water, any chemicals in the water like salt), and the changing air temperature. If you see gray ice, stay away—this indicates that there is water in or just below the ice surface.
Luckily there’s an easy way to check the thickness of the ice in our local lakes and ponds: the city of Halifax regularly checks the thickness and posts online at: https://apps.halifax.ca/icethickness which can be referred to before any outing onto the ice. The ice should be at least 15 cm for walking or skating alone, 20 cm for a group skate or game of hockey, and 25 cm or more if you’re planning to use a snowmobile on the ice.
3) Make sure everyone knows what to do in case of emergency:
a. In case of hypothermia, call for help, and get the person to warmth and get them out of wet clothing as soon as possible.
b. If you fall through the ice, kick your legs to push your torso onto the ice, avoiding pushing down on the ice as much as possible. Crawl on your stomach with your weight distributed as much as possible, and move quickly towards safety.
c. If someone else falls through the ice, move away from the broken ice and towards shore. Call for help, and try to reach the person with a branch, hockey stick, or length of rope. Have them kick their feet while you pull them out.
For more information, check out the red cross website at: http://www.redcross.ca/what-we-do/swimming-and-water-safety/swimming,-boating-and-water-safety-tips/ice-safety or consider taking an emergency first aid course.
Spending time outdoors skating and playing ice sports is a great way to keep yourself and your family active this winter. Take the proper precautions and have a great time this winter!