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The simple answer to this is no, ice is never totally safe to walk on. It’s always best to assume this, and then work from there to make sure you’re taking every precaution possible to make it safer.
There isn’t only the risk of falling through ice into freezing water, but the risk of slipping and badly injuring yourself.
Even the most experienced ice fisher will tell you never to underestimate how treacherous ice can be, its fickle nature will wait for you to become complacent before sending you for an unwanted slide or swim.
There are other important factors that determine how dangerous ice is to walk on. If the body of water beneath the ice has a current, this will make the ice less stable and thus far less stable.
If the body of water is deep this can make the water more dangerous if you fall in, as it will be far colder and more difficult to get out than falling into shallow water.
If the ice is formed over saltwater it will also be far weaker than freshwater ice. Saltwater ice needs to be far, far thicker than freshwater ice to be considered safe to navigate, and can still be considered unstable.
Whenever you venture out you should always remember to tell someone your plans, and when they can expect you to be back.
You should also consider wearing a flotation device, and bring rope and ice picks to help you get out of the water in a dire emergency. Bringing a cell phone is also a must, to call for help if you are stuck or lost.
Is New Ice Stronger Than Old Ice?
The answer to this may surprise you. Freshly formed ice that is clear and at least 4” thick is more likely to be stronger than old ice.
This is because old ice may already be thawing out and weakening, and may have been subject to changing tides and currents making it unstable.
Old ice may also have snow and slush on its surface, making it difficult to tell how thick the ice is, or potentially freezing to the surface giving the illusion that the ice is strong when it isn’t.
You should always beware of milky, opaque ice, as this means that there are a lot of air pockets in the ice which massively weakens the ice.
In theory, 4” of fresh, clear ice may be stronger and safer than 12” of cloudy, partially thawed ice.
It’s important to never take anything for granted on the ice though and continue to check the quality of the ice as you go to make sure it doesn’t change or become weaker. Ice doesn’t always freeze evenly, so stay alert!
Is Ice Thicker in the Middle of a Lake?
There are a lot of variables that affect where ice may be thickest at any given time. If ice has only just started to form and it’s early in the season, ice may be thicker in shaded areas near the coast.
This is because it will be colder in shaded areas, and ice will form at the coast first, before working its way to the center of a lake as the temperature stays low for longer.
However, if the ice has fully formed over the whole lake and the lake has been frozen for long enough, it is possible that the middle of the lake could have thicker ice.
This is due to the fact that the lake will be deeper in the middle, so there is more water there to freeze.
So while coastal parts of the lake will freeze first, they are limited by how thick the ice can be thanks to the shallower water there.
Meanwhile, in the center of the lake, the ice can continue to thicken if temperatures remain low for long enough.
It’s also worth noting that ice in the middle of a lake will tend to thaw slower than ice near the coast, again this is due to the depth of the water and the fact that deeper water swallows up heat far more easily than shallow water.
Is Clear Ice Stronger than Cloudy Ice?
As we’ve already mentioned, clear ice is typically stronger than cloudy ice. There can be exceptions as with any rule, but generally clear ice that is at least 4” thick will be safe enough to walk on.
Cloudy ice on the other hand is likely to be far weaker even at the same thickness.
The reason ice becomes cloudy is that it has become far more aerated than clear ice. This means it is full of tiny air bubbles and impurities that make the ice far less solid.
The presence of these air pockets means the structure of the ice will break much more easily.
As we’ve already mentioned, always continue to check ice as you move across it and stay alert, because the ice may not freeze uniformly and can be subject to instability depending on an array of factors such as currents and falling debris.
Are Four Inches of Ice Safe to Walk on?
Four inches of ice is the typical thickness that is considered to be safe to walk on. As mentioned above, make sure the ice is blue or clear.
Snow ice is far weaker and is very unreliable for walking on and we don’t recommend walking on it at any thickness, as it can be unpredictable, change a lot and be very unstable.
Are Three Inches of Ice Safe to Walk on?
The short answer is no. Unless ice is a minimum of 4” thick, it isn’t safe to walk on and we highly recommend that you steer clear of ice any thinner than this.
This is because thinner ice simply isn’t strong enough to withstand the weight of an average person, and will be highly unstable and dangerous.
Always check that ice remains thicker than 4”, and continue to check this periodically to ensure the ice hasn’t gotten thinner.