Capt. Dave Walsh: (603) 271-3129
Jay Martin: (603) 271-3211
March 11, 2019

CONCORD, NH — New Hampshire Fish and Game Department officials urge outdoor enthusiasts to exercise caution when enjoying late-winter activities near the ice.

Late-winter and spring conditions are deceiving because most ice is becoming unsafe at this time of year due to extended periods of temperatures above freezing. “It is imperative that you personally check the ice thickness on a waterbody as you venture out on foot, or before riding out on a snowmobile or off-highway recreational vehicle,” said Captain Dave Walsh, who coordinates OHRV Enforcement and Safety Education for Fish and Game. “Do not assume that because the ice is safe in one location that it will also be safe 100 yards away. If you don’t know, don’t go,” he warned.

Because ice conditions can be unpredictable and lack uniformity, especially late in the season, it is not advisable to drive vehicles onto the ice. Those on foot should carefully assess ice safety before venturing out by using an ice chisel or auger to determine ice thickness and condition. Continue to do this as you get further out onto the ice, because the thickness of the ice will not be uniform over the entire waterbody. See a short video demonstrating how to check ice thickness at

Walsh adds that you should also be sure to always bring along a rescue rope, ice picks, and a personal flotation device such as a float coat or conventional life preserver.

Though all ice is potentially dangerous, the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, NH, offers a rule of thumb on ice thickness: There should be a minimum of six inches of hard ice before individual foot travel and eight to ten inches of hard ice for snow machine or all-terrain vehicle travel.

Keep in mind that thick ice does not always mean safe ice. It is possible for ice to be thick, but not strong, because of varying weather conditions. Weak ice is formed when warming trends break down ice, then the slushy surface refreezes. Be especially careful of areas with active currents, such as inlets, outlets, and spring holes where the ice can be dangerously thin.

Tips for staying safe on the ice include:

  • Stay off the ice along the shoreline if it is cracked or squishy. Don’t go on the ice during thaws.
  • Watch out for thin, clear, or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and ice may also indicate weak spots.
  • Small bodies of water tend to freeze thicker. Rivers and lakes are more prone to wind, currents and wave action that weaken ice.
  • Don’t gather in large groups or drive large vehicles onto the ice.
  • If you do break through the ice, don’t panic. Move or swim back to where you fell in, where you know the ice was solid. Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. A set of ice picks can help you pull yourself out if you do fall through the ice; wear them around your neck or put them in an easily accessible pocket. Once out of the water, roll away from the hole until you reach solid ice.

Ice safety is also very important for snowmobilers. Don’t assume a trail is safe just because it exists; ask about trail conditions at local snowmobile clubs or sporting goods shops before you go.

To download the brochure “Safety on Ice – Tips for Anglers,” visit