Ice Thickness Safety Chart

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Ice thickness chart title

Know When It's Safe to be on the Ice

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How thick does ice have to be to drive a truck on it? To skate on? To go ice fishing? Before you go out in the cold weather, 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 less than four inches thick. 

Generally, avoid ice with cracks or ice near inlets or moving water. If you’re unfamiliar with an area, talk to the locals because ice is rarely the same thickness across a body of water and can change. 

If you’re going ice fishing, it 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

Safe Ice Thickness Chart
Ice Thickness*Permissible Load
3 inchesA single person on foot
4 inchesGroup in a single file line
7 1/2 inchesPassenger Car (2-ton gross)
8 inchesLight truck (2 1/2-ton gross)
10 inchesMedium truck (3 1/2-ton gross)
12 inchesHeavy truck (8-ton gross)
15 inches10 Tons
20 inches25 Tons
30 inches70 Tons
36 inches110 tons

* Solid, clear, blue/black pond and lake ice.

Slush ice has only half the strength of blue ice; the strength value of river ice is 15 percent less.

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

Download a printable copy of our Ice Thickness Safety Chart.

Exercise extreme caution when using vehicles on ice and go with someone familiar with the area. The chart above shows that ice must be at least 8 inches thick to hold a small pickup truck.

Also, don’t drive in a group. Park cars at least 50 feet apart or more and move every few 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. Check out what to pack in your emergency survival kit.

Testing the Ice Thickness

How do you check the ice? Experts compare 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.

How to Stay Safe on the Ice

Frozen surfaces can be captivating but pose risks to those who venture onto them. Here are some essential tips to ensure a winter wonderland experience that’s both enjoyable and secure.

  • Check Ice Thickness: Before stepping onto any frozen body of water, it’s crucial to determine if the ice is thick enough to support your weight. Always consult local authorities or experienced ice enthusiasts for ice thickness guidelines specific to your area.
  • Stay Informed: Keep yourself updated with weather conditions and ice conditions. Sudden temperature changes can weaken ice, and recent snowfall can obscure potential hazards.
  • Wear the Right Gear: Dress warmly in layers and ensure you have appropriate winter clothing. Additionally, wear ice cleats or crampons on your boots to improve traction.
  • Bring Safety Equipment: Carry safety essentials like a life jacket, a throw rope, and a whistle. Carrying ice picks or ice claws is also a good idea; they can help you pull yourself out of the water if you fall through.
  • Stay in Designated Areas: Whenever possible, stick to established ice-skating rinks or areas designated for winter activities. These locations are typically monitored for ice safety and maintained regularly.
  • Avoid Alcohol: Consuming alcohol on the ice can impair judgment and reaction time, increasing the risk of accidents. Save the celebratory drinks for after you’ve safely returned to solid ground.
  • Buddy System: It’s always safer to venture onto the ice with a friend or in a group. If someone falls through the ice, having others nearby can make all the difference in rescue efforts.
  • Know What to Do if You Fall In: If you find yourself in a situation where the ice breaks and you fall in, remain calm. Keep your head above water, turn toward the direction you came from, and use your ice picks or claws to grip the ice’s edge. Kick your legs to propel yourself up and out of the water, rolling away from the hole.
  • Respect the Signs: Pay attention to warning signs posted near bodies of water. These signs are there to keep you safe and should never be ignored.

Understanding ice conditions, wearing appropriate gear, and following these safety guidelines can help ensure that your winter wonderland adventure remains a cherished memory rather than a dangerous ordeal. See our Windchill Chart for more important outdoor winter safety information!

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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