A father and his young son died after falling through the ice in Michigan's Alderman Lake, where they were ice fishing. Michigan authorities believe the 4-year-old boy got cold and as they walked back to dry land, the pair broke through thin ice, Fox News reported. They perished after reportedly spending less than 10 minutes in the water.

The ice should be at least four inches thick for safe ice fishing, according to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. But ice rarely freezes uniformly, regardless of the temperature or whether it's covered with snow. And it's hard to judge the strength of ice by its appearance, age or the temperature outside. You may be stepping on a mostly sturdy foot of ice, but you might be a step away from a dangerous thin patch.

Appearances do give some clues, however. Clear ice with a blueish tint is the strongest ice. Ice that looks milky is very porous and weak, says the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Even ice fishing aficionados have a hard time being safe on a surface as unpredictable as ice. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources notes that "there is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice."

Related: Tips for Warm and Safe Winter Camping

How to safely ice fish

If you're a fan of ice fishing, keep these safety tips in mind. They're courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

  • Before you head out, tell a family member or friend where you will be fishing and what time to expect you back. Avoid fishing alone.
  • Test out the ice thickness by drilling a hole near the shore. The hole should show at least a four-inch thickness of clear ice, like the ice from your freezer.
  • Keep your fishing holes small — under 8 inches in diameter. A bigger hole might compromise the safety of the ice.
  • Check local laws. Indiana law, for example, limits ice fishing holes to a diameter of 12 inches.
  • Avoid ice fishing near feeder streams or known springs, brush, logs, plants or docks. Old honey-combed ice, slush ice or ice with current underneath is dangerous and may not be thick enough to walk on safely.
  • Don't walk in a single file. Instead, spread out, as the ice may be able to safely support only one person at a time. Don't fish right next to each other.
  • Wear warm layers and wind- and waterproof outerwear, especially for feet, hands and head. Carry ice picks or large nails to use for self-rescue in case of an emergency. Take extra clothes, food, water and sand for on-ice traction, and a sled for easy on-ice transport of all equipment.
  • Stock the car with a first-aid kit, matches, extra food, clothes and sand for traction.

The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation gives a few tips in this video on how to safely ice fish and set up your fishing area.


Related: How to Survive a Blizzard If You’re Caught Outside

If you fall in the freezing water

If you fall through the ice and there's no one to help, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends this self-rescue strategy:

  • Keep your clothing and outerwear on. Heavy clothes won't drag you down, but instead can trap air to provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true with a snowmobile suit.
  • Face the way you came. That’s probably where you'll find the strongest and safest ice.
  • Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface. Use the large nails you brought with you as ice picks to pull yourself up. (Or use actualy
  • Kick your feet and make your way back onto the solid ice. If your clothes have trapped a lot of water, you may have to lift yourself partially out of the water on your elbows to let the water drain before you can pull yourself all the way out.
  • Lie flat on the ice and roll away from the hole. This keeps your weight spread out and helps prevent you from breaking through the ice again.
  • Get to a warm, dry, sheltered area. Quickly re-warm yourself to avoid hypothermia. If you have moderate to severe hypothermia, seek medical attention. Cold blood in your extremities may rush to the heart as you rewarm and cause a dangerously irregular heartbeat.

If someone else falls in

If you see someone fall through the ice, the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation suggests these steps:

  • PREACH — Shout to the victim to reassure them help is on the way.
  • REACH — If you can reach the person from shore, extend an object such as a rope, ladder or jumper cables to the victim. If the person starts to pull you in, release your grip on the object and start over.
  • THROW — Toss one end of the object to the victim. Have them tie it around themselves.
  • ROW — If you have access to a small, light boat, push it to the edge of the hole. Get in the boat and pull the victim in over the bow.
  • GO — Don't go out in the ice to save the victim if you're not a professional unless there's no other option.

If the situation be too dangerous for you to attempt a rescue, RBFF advises calling 911.

Related: SafeBee's Top Winter Safety Tips

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Muriel Vega is a writer with a passion for budget travel and staying safe while abroad. A Georgia State University graduate, she has over 6 years of editorial experience and has written for The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Billfold, among other outlets. In her free time, you can find her baking pies, playing with her two dogs and cat, or planning her next vacation. She spends way too much time on Twitter, one of her favorite social media channels. Her favorite safety tip: Make sure you have all the necessary shots before you go abroad.