If you are thinking about heading out on the water, the Red Cross wants you to be safe.

My Muskoka Now.com spoke with Gail Botten of the Canadian Red Cross about how to be safe when dealing with frozen bodies of water. Although the lakes are starting to freeze, the advice she gives is for when they are frozen. Botten says that before you even step onto the ice, there are some indicators to look out for to know if it is safe. Botten says that a good indicator of how strong the ice is would be the colour, she says that blue ice is the absolute strongest. Botten adds that if the ice is grey that means there is still water flowing underneath it and therefore unsafe.

Botten adds that if it has been a warm or mild day that you shouldn’t go out on the water because the ice might have started to thaw and could crack underneath you. Botten explained that if the body of water is large or has a fast-moving current that it is important to watch for cracks in the ice. She adds that there is the same concern of cracks if the water has thawed and frozen several times.

If you do go out on the ice, Botten suggests that no one go out alone. She also says you should be bringing a pole, or a rope or even a hockey stick onto the ice with you, that way if anyone falls through you can use it to pull them up and out. In terms of clothes, Botton says that wearing wool gloves is a good idea because they will stick to the ice when wet.

In the event that yourself or someone else has fallen through the ice, Botton says that the first thing to do is challenging but necessary. The first thing to do is try and keep the person calm because once they hit the water there is only a short time before they start to freeze. Botten says that if you’re the person in the water, you need to try and level yourself off. That means trying to bring yourself as close to horizontal as you can. Botten explains that could make it easier for you to be pulled out or pull yourself out. This scenario is exactly why Botten suggests the wool mittens, she says that once they are wet you can “plunk” your mittens on the ice and use the fact they stick to help gradually pull yourself out.

Another solution Botten offered is that if you are close to shore you can try to crack and break a path to the shore for the person in the water. But she adds that can be a lot of work and you have limited time to get the person out of the water before hypothermia becomes a concern.

Botten emphatically explained that the biggest safety tip is prevention, meaning that you are taking the time to check if the ice is safe, and if it has been a warm weekend to just not go out at all.