How to survive if you fall through ice, and how to help someone else

Tips from Indiana State Police

INDIANAPOLIS -- Do you know what to do if you or someone you know falls through the ice?

It's a problem first responders say they have to deal with every year when the weather turns cold. And it's a situation where seconds can mean the difference between life and death. 

Indiana State Police offer the following tips for rescuing yourself or another person who falls through the ice:

Before you go onto any ice for activities:

  • Check with local bait shops, lakeside resorts, or DNR officers, as they will have a good idea of regional ice conditions.
  • Leave a copy of your plans with a responsible person and include information on destination, planned activities, route of travel, and expected time of return.
  • Prepare a safety kit to assist you and/or others in the event of an emergency. This kit should include, at a minimum, a personal flotation device, ice picks specifically designed for self rescue, sounding device such as a whistle, a rescue rope bag, a flashlight, and a cell phone.
  • Check the ice thickness yourself, using an ice auger or other device. A minimum of 4' of clear ice is required for any activities, if the ice is not clear it typically means it has had warmer water run though it causing it to weaken. 

Once on the ice, wear your personal flotation device at all times! (PFD)
If you fall through the ice:

  • Do not panic! 
  • Begin to control your breathing and turn toward the direction from which you came. The ice is typically thicker the direction you came from, and you're likely closer to get back to shore. 
  • Place your arms on top of the ice or, if you have ice picks, place the spikes of the ice picks into the top of the ice. 
  • As you pull yourself onto the top of the ice with your arms or ice picks, vigorously kick your feet to assist in pushing your body up onto the ice. 
  • Once completely out of the water, keep your body flat on the ice and roll away from the ice hole towards the shore, you may have to roll or crawl all the way off the ice.
  • When you are safely off the ice and out of immediate danger, take necessary precautions to avoid hypothermia.

To assist with the rescue of another person who has fallen through the ice:

  • Do not run onto the ice towards the hole where the victim is located!  This typically leads to a second victim in the water.
  • Remember Preach, Reach, Throw, Row, Do not Go


  • PREACH – While you are calling 911, talk to the victim.  Encourage self-rescue using the techniques above, and let the victim know that you have called for help and that it is on the way.
  • REACH – Do not leave the safety of the shore and do not use only your hands/arms during a reaching rescue!  Use anything available to extend your reach to the victim, such as rope, stick/branch, jumper cables, handle of a garden tool, etc.  If the victim is pulling you onto the ice, let go of the object used for the reaching rescue.
  • THROW – Use a rescue rope bag, dock line, or anything that will float to throw to the victim.  You may have to improvise; keeping in mind even simple things like an empty one-gallon milk container can provide enough additional buoyancy for a victim to keep their head out of the water.  If the victim is losing the ability to grasp onto objects, try to have them tie the rope or line around them.
  • ROW – Look around the immediate area, sometimes small boats are left around ponds all year long.  Push the small boat out in front of you to the victim.  The victim may be able to hold onto the boat as they are pulled from the ice hole, or you can enter the boat and assist them into the boat.  If there is an opportunity to fasten a rope to the boat before it is taken onto the ice, this will assist other people present on shore  pulling the boat safely off the ice.
  • DO NOT GO – Unless all other techniques have failed and trained rescuers are not available do not go onto the ice to conduct a rescue.  On ice, rescues by untrained and unequipped persons can quickly lead to additional victims.
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