The highest hope for this website is to help save a few lives. The following are six simple ways to minimize the chances of the worst happening.
Please keep in mind that the chances of dying on the ice is pretty low. In the last two years about 50 people died/year in America.
1) Use Your Head
Outcomes (good and bad) come from a combination of competence and luck. Since we have no control of luck, competence is our only defence against bad outcomes. Competence comes from a combination of experience, understanding, skills, proper equipment and prudent judgment.
2) Be Ready if things don't go as planned
Judgment is never perfect and no ice is completely predictable. It is OK to hope for the best but it is more important to prepare for the worst. Ice claws would probably save around half of the people who drown after falling through the ice. Be disciplined about never going on ice without them. A throw rope will make rescuing a wet friend easier, safer, more likely to succeed and less likely to end with both the victim and rescuer in the water. In most rescue situations it is best to call 911 before doing anything else. This gets back-up on the way. Rescue crews would much rather be called and not needed than have to do a recovery.
A tool for testing the ice will significantly reduce the chance of falling through compared to the widely used 'body weight test method'. This is even more important (and more difficult) when vehicles are involved. A cell phone in a waterproof bag, foot traction and a change of clothes are important additions. More..
Go in a group. The optimum group size is in the 3-6 person range but two is significantly better than one. Your safety margin is substantially worse if you are alone.
3) Wear flotation
Nobody expects to fall through but almost every ice sheet has places where it is possible and some of those places may be nearly invisible. After a few minutes in the water, you loose your ability to swim, rescue yourself or assist others in helping you. If you are not successful at getting back on the ice, you may not be able to keep your mouth and nose above the surface. With floatation most people will survive an hour or more before they become unconscious from hypothermia. That often provides enough time for rescuers to get to a victim (typical times range from 15 to 45 minutes). Flotation can be in the form of a life jacket, float coat, flotation snowmobile suit, dry suit, or a backpack (with a hold down strap) that has a dry bag full of dry clothes. More...
4) Don't Drive on Ice
About half of those who die on ice do so as a result of driving vehicles (snowmobiles to trucks). A pickup truck on ice has a lot in common with a two ton stone. Weather near or above freezing is a factor in many vehicle break throughs. Pressure ridges are a common place to break through. They are hard to predict, sometimes hard to see and often in the way of where people want to go. More...
5) Don't Take Ice for Granted When Bringing Others
The worst outcome of an ice accident is having someone else die as a result of your decisions. Ice can be unpredictably dangerous. Keep that in mind when bringing children, friends and pets who don’t know what they are getting into (more on Kids and Dogs). The risk profile for activities on lake ice has more in common with moderate mountaineering than the Currier and Ives view that many approach ice with.
6) Stay off the ice at night
You find most ice problems with your eyes so finding them at night is much more difficult. Your ability to rescue yourself or others is also significantly diminished. Vehicles and darkness are an especially bad combination. More...
These six steps are only a start. The rest of the site has lots more to say on these and many other aspects of minimizing risk while enjoying one of winter's great treasures.