Clawless Self Rescue

 

While you ALWAYS should have your ice claws with you if you break through the ice without them you still have a good chance of getting out (especially if you read the following).  Most of the people who fall in don’t drown. 

  • When you go in,  if you have any control of the situation, make your entry slow and  try to keep your head out of the water.  Keep your mouth closed and try to put your hand over your mouth and nose to reduce the chance you will gasp in water. A life jacket or other flotation helps with this. 
  • Once in the water, get your breathing under control (may take 30 seconds to a minute).
  • Don't panic but act promptly: you will lose strength in your hands and arms in a few minutes.
  • Shout for help.  If you have a whistle, now is the time to use it.
  • Get to the edge of the ice you fell in from (unless there is good reason to go elsewhere)
  • If you have spiky shoes, poles, or anything else that can substitute for claws, use them. 
  • If you have skis on, get the off your feet if you can.  If you have flotation you may be able to put them on the ice in front of you. 
  • With your arms on the ice sheet  swim you body to a horizontal position behind you
  • Lift your upper body straight up on your elbows.  Don’t try to pull yourself out with your arms unless you have some meaningful traction on rough spring ice or snow covered ice.  You are trying to get your upper body high enough that it does not drag on the edge.
  • Use strong frog kicks to ooch yourself onto the ice.  It usually takes several frog kicks to get you far enough out to roll away from the edge.You are trying to get a strong foreward impulse from each kick.
  • Just to make things a bit more challenging, if the ice is thin it will usually slope down from your weight, making this a bit of an uphill battle.
  • If the ice breaks or you slip back repeat the above. Often you will end up pushing bigger pieces underneath you to get them out of the way.
  • Once you are on the ice, roll  or belly crawl away  from the edge until you are reasonably sure the ice will support you crawling or standing up.
  • The next day, make or buy claws for everyone you know and read the Cold Water Clothing page.

Notes:

  1. Frog kicks appear to have the most power for getting you back on the ice sheet.  Double leg kicks are not as good.  Normal freestyle kicks are least effective. 
  2. Consider practicing this ahead of time with a wet suit or  dry suit and a belay.  
  3. Or  practice this in warm water using a 4'x4'x2" piece of styrofoam.  Try different kicking styles and lifting your body onto the 'ice'.
  4. falling through thin ice over a hole is common.  You can often try to park your butt on the thick edge of hole.  Leaning toward the thick ice may allow you to keep your torso dry.
  5. Life jackets or float clothing makes everything easier.  A test pole will make it much less likely that you will find weak ice with your feet.  The body weight test method is is not a good way to test dodgy ice.  A throw rope makes rescuing less risky for you to fish out someone else. And ice claws make geting back on the ice easier and more certain.

 If it is cold enough and nothing else works and you don't have a life jacket on you can place your arms on the ice and after a time (I am not sure how long) your sleeves may freeze to the ice enough to get yourself out. This is more likely to work on thicker ice and colder conditions.  Thin cold ice and warm ice do not have enough 'cold' in them to freeze wet selves.  The material on your selves is also important: smoother synthetics to not adhere well. Cotton  sticks well when frozen although it is less than great as insulation in cold weather clothing. Fleece, wool and other fuzzy surfaced fabrics may also stick reasonably well.

Even if you can’t get out, it will help you keep your head out of the water longer, giving rescue personnel more time to get to you. Even if your sleeves don't fully freeze, pressing your elbows and forearms into wet ice for 10 or 15 seconds will usually  provide a little grip.  That grip is lost as soon as your elbow moves even a small amount.  That little bit of grip may be enough to let you swim out, just try to be smooth and with minimal jerking your elbows and forearms. 

I find it is easy to get out when I am in my dry suit: there is lots of flotation, little added weight from wet clothes  and there is little sense of urgency.  

I have talked to a couple of people who have gotten out, with considerable difficulty, by swinging their leg onto the edge of the ice.  The water slows your leg down during the swing making it difficult to get the leg over the edge enough that it does not slip back off.  In one case on Lake Dunmore (VT) it took the victim many tries and almost all his reserve of warmth/energy to be successful. 

 Click here for information on the 1-10-1 principle. It outlines the three phases of cold water immersion and how to best respond to them. 

Don’t be clawless: ALWAYS HAVE ICE CLAWS!

Bob