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Winter Ice Safety Tips

Winter is one of the greatest seasons to enjoy the Maine outdoors but Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife urges yo to do so safely. Please keep in mind that ice conditions are always changing. There are many factors to consider when determining whether the ice conditions are safe, and they can vary from day-to-day and from one water body to the next.


Always check the color and thickness of the ice. “Thick and blue, tried and true. Thin and crispy, way too risky.” The first thing you should do before stepping on a frozen waterbody is to check the color and thickness of the ice. Knowing how to read ice color is a useful indicator of ice health, though color alone cannot guarantee “safe” ice.

  • Light gray to dark black – Melting ice, this can occur even if the air temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). This ice is not safe, it will be a weak density and cannot hold weight, STAY OFF.
  • White to opaque – This is water-saturated snow that froze on top of the ice which forms another thin ice layer. This can often lead to air pockets from being so porous.
  • Blue to clear – High density, very strong, safest ice to be on if thick enough, you should stay off if under 4 inches (10cm) thick.
  • Mottled and slushy or “rotten” ice – when judging this type of ice, it won’t be so much the color but the texture. You can tell by the ice thawing and slushy. This type of ice can be deceptive as it might seem thick at the top, however it is “rotting” away at the center and base. Most prevalent to see this kind of ice in the spring, it may even show signs of mud, debris, and plant matter surfacing from the bottom of the water body.

No matter what color the ice is or how sure you are of the strength you should check by using an auger, chisel, or an axe to determine that it is at least 4-6 inches thick. Start at the edge and check continuously as you move away from shore. If the ice at the shoreline is cracked or squishy, you should stay off. Don’t go on the ice during thaws and watch out for thin, clear or honeycomb shaped ice. Dark snow and dark ice are other signs of weak spots.

More from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife HERE.

If you plan on going out on the ice, make sure you double-check the chart! This is something you don’t want to risk!

Posted by Maine Bureau of Highway Safety on Wednesday, December 28, 2022

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