News release: DNR cautions about uneven conditions as ice season gets underway

December 21, 2021


Anglers in some parts of Minnesota have been venturing onto the ice for several weeks, while water remains open in other parts of the state. So far in December, weather in the state—which has included rain, snow and fluctuating temperatures—has affected ice-making and impacted ice that’s already formed.

As a result, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stresses the importance of checking ice thickness with a spud bar, auger or other device before stepping out onto it. Do not rely on other people’s footprints, tracks or social media posts.

Anglers and others who recreate on the ice should stay on shore until there’s at least
4 inches of new, clear ice. A minimum of 5 to 7 inches of ice is necessary to support an all-terrain vehicle or snowmobile, and there should be at least a foot before hauling out a truck or wheelhouse-type fishing shelter. People should check the thickness of the ice regularly, since it can be highly variable even on the same body of water.

“The week between Christmas and New Year’s is typically the kickoff of the ‘wheelhouse season,’ and we anticipate it’ll be the same this year, especially in the northern part of the state,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, DNR Enforcement Division director. “Whether you’re walking onto the ice or hauling out a shelter you’ll sleep in, checking the ice thickness regularly is absolutely vital and one of the easiest ways to ensure tragedy doesn’t strike before you arrive at your fishing spot.”

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 someone 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’ll 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.