Snowmobiling or ice fishing can be a fun and exciting way to spend a winter’s day in Minnesota and other northern states. These activities also can be very dangerous when basic safety rules are ignored, according to officials at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Snowmobilers can reduce accidents and fatalities by following a few safety rules, said Minnesota DNR Enforcement Chief Bill Bernhjelm.
“Drive safely and drive smart when operating a snowmobile,” Bernhjelm advised. “Drivers should always be aware of potential hazards and use good judgment.”
Bernhjelm said snowmobilers should follow these safety tips:
Drinking and driving can be fatal. Drinking alcohol before or during snowmobiling can impair judgment and slow reaction time. Snowmobilers who have been drinking may drive too fast or race across unsafe ice. Alcohol also causes the body temperature to drop at an accelerated rate, which increases the likelihood of hypothermia.
Speed is a contributing factor in nearly all fatal snowmobiling accidents. Drivers should proceed at a pace that will allow ample reaction time for any situation. When driving at night, a speed of only 40 miles per hour may result in “over driving” the reach of the headlight.
When traveling, make sure to bring a first-aid kit, a flashlight, waterproof matches and a compass.
Fatigue can reduce the driver’s coordination and judgment.
Avoid traveling across bodies of water when uncertain of ice thickness and strength of ice on lakes and ponds. Snow cover can act as a blanket and prevent safe ice from forming. Never travel in a single file when crossing bodies of water.
Dress For Success
Use a full-size helmet, goggles or face shield to prevent injuries from twigs, stones, ice and flying debris. Clothing should be worn in layers and should be just snug enough so that no loose ends catch in the machine.
Watch The Weather
Rapid weather changes can produce dangerous conditions.
Bring A Buddy
Never travel alone. Most snowmobile accidents result in some personal injury. The most dangerous situations can occur if a person is injured and alone. A snowmobiler who must travel alone should tell someone the destination, planned route and expected time of return.
Anglers: Beware Of Thin Ice
Ice anglers and other winter outdoor enthusiasts also should be aware that a solid 4 inches is the minimum thickness on bodies of water experts recommend for walking across ice.
Ice safety guidelines also recommend a minimum of 5 inches of new, clear ice for snowmobiles and 8 inches to 12 inches of new, clear ice for a small to medium size automobiles or pickup trucks.
During the holidays, when parents send their kids outside to play while meals are prepared and presents are wrapped, the parents are advised to warn the children in no uncertain terms to stay away from any frozen water bodies around the home.
“It seems as though nearly every year around the holidays we receive reports of children falling through ice and drowning,” said Minnesota DNR Water Safety Specialist Tim Smalley. “It’s just so incredibly tragic. Kids are attracted to ice like a magnet. They just don’t know how much ice it takes to support a person, nor do they have an understanding of what is or isn’t safe.
“It seems like common sense, but I think a reminder to busy, holiday stressed adults is necessary,” Smalley said. “Danger to their children and potential drowning is as close as the frozen pond or stream near their house if the children aren’t properly supervised.”
The DNR recommends that, even when conditions improve, children should not go out on the ice without adult supervision.
Smalley urges winter recreationists to check with a local bait shop or resort before heading out.
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