Ice Thickness Safety Chart

Know When it's Safe to be on the Ice

February 14, 2021
Ice Skates
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How thick does ice have to be to drive a truck on it? Skate on? Go ice fishing? Before you go out, check our ice thickness chart to determine if it’s safe!

Use common sense on the ice. If you’re going skating or ice fishing with a group, stay off ice that’s less than four inches thick. 

As a general rule, avoid ice that has cracks or ice near inlets or moving water. If you’re not familar with an area, be sure to talk to the locals because ice is rarely the same thickness all the way across a body of water and can change. If you’re going ice fishing, may also be a good idea to check with a local expert about ice safety. Bait shops or lakeside businesses may know about the ice conditions. Always be safe and don’t put yourself or others at risk.

Ice Thickness Chart

WARNING: Always be cautious. If you are unsure if the ice is safe, don’t take your chances!

Exercise extreme caution when using vehicles on ice and go with someone who’s familiar with the area. As the chart above shows, ice needs to be at least 8 inches thick to hold a small pickup ruck.

Also, don’t drive in a group. Park cars at least 50 feet apart or more and move every couple hours. Drive at a very slow speed with seatbelt off and door unlocked. 

Always bring safety gear: A life jacket, ice pick, cell phone, length of rope, and ice auger.

Testing the Ice Thickness

How do you check the ice? Experts comparing it to checking the oil in your car. With a drill, make a hole. Hook the end of a tape measure on the edge and take the measurement. It’s worth bringing an ice auger to test the ice as you walk and move.

See our Windchill Chart for more important outdoor winter safety information!

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Reader Comments

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Ice making cracking sounds

I realize that my fears are probably completely ridiculous, but I live right on the banks of a river and my city curates walking, skating, and cross-country ski trails on it. I assume that they're measuring, and I frequently see lightweight vehicles driving down the skating trail (which is in the center and almost certainly where the ice would be thinnest) to clear off the snow, so I know that the ice is thick enough to support the weight of that vehicle. Even so, sometimes when I'm walking or skating, the ice will make cracking sounds that I find extremely alarming. It's been VERY cold here lately (like, -30 Celsius and lower), so I also know intellectually that it's almost certainly too cold for the ice to be in any danger of melting, yet the cracking sounds scare me. Is there anything you could tell me to reassure me that this is normal or something? The river itself is shallow, especially in winter (maybe 20' at the deepest, more like 8' at the shallowest), and there are places where you can see that the ice is at least a foot thick. All the same, I nearly have a heart attack every time I walk over a spot and it starts making those cracking sounds. Reassure me??

ice cracking

The Editors's picture

Ice cracks when it expands or when it contracts. As long as the ice your on is thick enough near shore, you should be fine. But follow your instincts! Nothing is worth falling through the ice. 

I plan on ice skating on a

I plan on ice skating on a derby lake, lake Cornelia in Iowa, this winter. I'm worried about ice thickness. how can I tell if ice is at least 4 inches?

nearby, not derby lol

nearby, not derby lol

It's All Icing on the Lake

The Editors's picture

Hi, Beltran: The best thing to do would be to chip away or drill a test hole in a shallow place near the shore, bearing in mind that ice can still be thinner farther out, where there might be springs, currents, or pressure cracks. Have fun and thanks for asking! And be safe out there!

What about hockey

You have people in a single-file line - what about 10 adults playing hockey???

She Shoots, She Scorrrrrrrrrres!

The Editors's picture

Hi, Barbara: We would look for 5 to 6 inches, at least. Thanks for asking!

Ice Fishing Derby - 20th Feb 2016

Good Morning: The City of Elliot Lake is hosting it's 10th Annual Ice Fishing Derby and in past years we have had up to 725 people fishing on Horne Lake. My concern this year is that we have not had enough cold weather for the ice to freeze (good ice) to host this derby. Can you please give me some insight into how thick the ice should be for 700 people to be in attendance with over 800 holes pre drilled. Thank you for your input.

Ice Thickness

The Editors's picture

Hi, Darla: Thank you for such detail and concern. This is a great question, for which we  have no answer. Insight, though—perhaps we can lend. The answer to any question about fishing derby ice thickness depends on many things: shady spots, shallow spots, currents and/or springs, concentration of holes, etc. Feel free to take under advisement the table above—regarding ice thickness. We can tell you that here in New Hampshire, we have postponed more than one derby in the name of extreme caution, which you quite correctly sense is important. OK, so that’s our nonanswer. Here’s the insight: Go to the local tackle shop and/or find the oldest/most experienced ice fisher you can—and then combine their advice with this chart. Thanks again, and be safe! Oh: And good luck to your anglers, whenever they fish!