On Christmas Day, a TV station announced, "Missouri boy
breaks through ice and survives." That boy was lucky. The
1999 winter drowning threat came suddenly when near zero weather
suddenly followed spring-like temperatures.
Hunters, fishermen, cattle and children are in special danger
of drowning when ice is thin, weak or "rotten." The
danger is particularly great in Midwestern states, where the ice
conditions can be safe one weekend and hazardous the next.
Consider children: A lake, creek or pond that is frozen over
looks like an ice hockey rink to the boys, a figure skating dance
area to girls and to a hunter, it is a shortcut when following a
Sportsmen might cross a creek on safe ice and, the next day,
find the same place treacherous. If the ice feels spongy under
foot or is wet on top, a close look at the surface may reveal
little hexagonal patterns. Beware! And if you chop ice and pencil
shaped slivers appear, it is dangerous!
Thirsty cattle can lick through an inch or so to get a drink,
but without adequate water available they sometimes go out on the
ice. A friend saw his herd walking onto the pond and called for
help, but the ice collapsed. The men were able to save all but
five. Horses are often able to paw through ice to get a drink
because of the shape of the hoof.
I taught summer swimming classes in our backyard pool, and I
said to each class, "When a parent or teacher is your
lifeguard, this is a place to swim. But if no grown-up is with
you, it’s just a tank of water, and you must not get
To the tiny ones I would say, "Sometimes water can hurt
you. You must not get in unless a grown-up calls you by name and
says, You may come in with me now, and I’ll watch
Is that brainwashing? Yes, a very special kind of brainwashing
that I recommend to all parents. Children who are obedient about
other things can easily forget when something as fun as playing
on ice or in water is before them.
Swimming pool gates should be locked or wired shut in winter
as well as during the swimming season. Little children can’t
distinguish cold water from swimming temperature until
they’re in it. They don’t understand
"drowning" and to talk about it scares them. Adults
must insist that they obey and not use scare tactics.
Parents should not consider pool decks as play areas. People
of any age might enjoy bouncing on a diving board in winter, but
a person will be in real trouble if he or she loses balance when
the pool is drained or when it’s not.
Think about a self-rescue plan before it is needed. Here are
some suggestions: Take a buddy along, carry a whistle and, for
groups of skaters, a 50-foot life rope. Learn to coil and throw
the rope as lifeguards do. If ice is cracking or gives a little
with each step, get down gently and roll toward safety. If you
have skates on, get on your back and dig the skate heels into the
ice for a quick trip backward to safety. Give a nonskater a
whistle and have him give surprise signals as if there is danger.
All on the ice must then get down and proceed to safety.
Playing on ice is fun. But skaters, hunters, parents
all of us must remember that many drownings are
preventable and that they can happen in summer and winter.