Safe Ice Thickness

Ice skater provides these ice thickness safety guidelines

as an approximate only. We are not responsible for any incidents or death using these guidelines. Ice can crack due to pressure points on lakes, oceans and rivers.

Outside temperature greatly influence ice thickness

A lake or ocean may have a warm stream or river flowing into it and thin ice can be found at these locations. When the weather warns up ice begins to melt or "rot". Much more thickness is needed then or it may not be safe at all. If you are moving heavy objects over the ice such as cars or large trucks it is recommended to use very slow speeds. The ice actually bends somewhat and an air pocket is pushed along under the ice in front of you. Going too fast can crack or break the ice and your unit will fall through the ice surface. Many people have found out the hard way about this event. You have little time to get out of your vehicle if you do fall through the ice. In cold water the human body goes into temporarily shock and you will have difficulty moving your limbs to stay afloat. Winter clothing will also hamper your ability to get out of the water. Clothing unless it is water proof will quickly absorb water and increase in weight. Ice is slippery and even if you do make it to the ice surface you will find nothing to grab and pull your self out with.

Wearing a garment that has flotation buoyancy built

in can save your life if you do fall in. Many truck drivers and equipment operators will drive slow and keep a door ajar or open if they feel the ice is unsafe. Falling through can happen in a split second and little time is given to get out of the vehicle. Some snow machines can actually cross very thin ice or even open water. High speed is needed but catching an edge or miscalculation can result in a sinking. Some experience ice users will attach a buoy with a rope to their machine. This can aid in retrieval if they do happen to fall through. Helicopters are used in some cases to retrieve a sunken snow machine. Check the ice you are going to cross or drive on. Keep in mind ice thickness will vary. Just because it is thick enough in one spot does not guarantee your whole route has thick enough ice for safe travel. Ice is often thinner close to river banks and lake edges.

General ice thickness guidelines for clear hard ice.

If ice is 2 inches (5.1 centimeters) stay off. It is not safe even for a person.
4 inches (10.2 centimeters) activities such as ice fishing on foot.
5 inches (12.7 centimeters) OK for snow machines or normal all terrain vehicle.
8-12 inches (20.3 - 30.5 centimeters) is recommended for cars or light duty pickup.
12-15 inches (30.5 - 38.1 centimeters) normal sized pickup truck.
16 inches or more (40.6 centimeters) for any heavy vehicle bigger than a normal pickup truck.
Semi trucks and equipment should have at least 2 feet (61 centimeters)
Remember these are guidelines only. Weight of vehicle will determine thickness of ice needed. Poor quality ice is unpredictable. 
To be safe, stay off. It may be possible to travel on less ice thickness but you may also regret trying it.


Page authors

  • Mike Scholz
    April 14, 2013