Cold weather means ice making has begun on many lakes across the state, but Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers advise people to stay off of the still-forming ice for the time being.

That’s because ice thickness is highly variable and subject to the whims of Mother Nature. Emergency responders already have responded to incidents where anglers have fallen through thin ice or been stranded on ice sheets that broke off from the shoreline due to heavy wind.

Anglers and others who recreate on the ice should stay on shore until there is at least four inches of new, clear ice. Anytime people are on the ice, they should check its thickness every 150 feet.

“For some people, going out onto the ice as early as possible is a badge of honor, but the reality is they’re putting their lives in danger – and the lives of the people tasked with coming to their rescue should things go wrong,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, DNR Enforcement Division director. “The risk to you and others isn’t worth the reward.”

It will take another several consecutive days of below-freezing temperatures before enough solid ice has formed to support foot traffic, and even longer before all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles should be on the ice. Once the ice has had more time to form, it’s up to each individual to make sure it’s thick enough.

“Don’t take someone else’s word about the condition of the ice, and don’t assume it’s safe just because that’s what you read on social media,” Smith said. “Check for yourself, and make sure you’re prepared for the worst.”

Each year, unexpected falls through thin ice lead to serious injury or death. Wearing a life jacket is the best way to avert tragedy should you fall through the ice, since the initial shock of falling into cold water can incapacitate even strong swimmers. A good set of ice picks will help a person get out, and a cell phone, whistle or other communications device makes it more likely they will be able to call for help.

General ice safety guidelines

No ice can ever be considered “safe ice,” but following these guidelines can help minimize the risk:

  • Always wear a life jacket or float coat on the ice (except when in a vehicle).

  • Carry ice picks, rope, an ice chisel and tape measure.

  • Check ice thickness at regular intervals; conditions can change quickly.

  • Bring a cell phone or personal locator beacon.

  • Don’t go out alone; let someone know about trip plans and expected return time.

  • Before heading out, inquire about conditions and known hazards with local experts.

The minimum ice thickness guidelines for new, clear ice are:

  • 4 inches for ice fishing or other activities on foot.

  • 5-7 inches for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle.

  • 8-12 inches for a car or small pickup.

  • 12-15 inches for a medium truck.

  • Double these minimums for white or snow-covered ice.

For more information, visit mndnr.gov/icesafety and mndnr.gov/boatingsafety.