A fall into freezing water when riding a sled near a lake or river isn't as uncommon as you might think. Many of us have sent a sled to the bottom of a lake or river because we thought we could make it over that little spot of open water just before the shore.
If you've ever deep-sixed your snowmobile, you know what I'm talking about, and how dangerous the situation can be.
Here are 10 steps to help you if you're ever called on to be a hero or find yourself in the drink.
Let the sled go!
This sounds like a no-brainer, but if you're riding and break through the ice (and know you aren't going to ride this one out) don't worry about the sled! Let it go because the cold water will immobilize you faster than you think (25% faster than air of the same temperature on your skin).
It's much more important that you make it out alive. Plus, the shock of the icy water can often disorient a person so much as to send them into a panic. And you don't want to be trying to rescue a 400+ pound machine when your body is in shock. You also will need to report the sled sinking to your local DNR or law enforcement ASAP … once you are safe of course.
Yell for help if you are the victim and can't get out, or make contact with the victim if you're in a position to help and assure the person in the water that everything will be all right and that help is coming.
If you're with a group, put someone in charge of calling 911- either by leaving the accident scene for a phone or using a cell phone. (If you're a lone rescuer, this may not be possible, as the key to a safe rescue is to work quickly and with purpose. You don't want your friend to be in the icy water any longer than they have to be!)
Use your rope!
Snowmobilers should keep a decent-sized length of rope (at least 20 feet) on their rig. If you can throw the rope to the victim or tie something to the end of the rope like a block of wood or ladder to slide out to the victim without going out onto the ice yourself, do that first!
Venturing out onto the ice yourself should be your last option. If you must travel out onto the ice, one of the best and easiest methods for removing someone from the water is to tie one end of the rope around the rescuer's belt and the other end to an object that will not move (a tree, pole, rock, etc). Even if a group is there to pull on the rope, you should still tie the rope off as an extra precaution. If a second rope is available, tie an end of it to one of these objects as well. In this case, the rescuer can be holding onto one rope and assisting the victim whom is pulling on the second rope to get out of the water.
Grab a screwdriver, or two
Screwdrivers work just like ice picks, and they can help a victim get a good grip on the ice before they try to lift themselves from the water. If you end up in the water as a rescuer, you can use the screwdriver to help pull yourself out as well. The victim also could use a screwdriver to get a grip while you are pulling them from the water.
If a wide piece of plywood or some other weight-dispersing object is available, use it to stand on as you move out onto the ice. This will prevent the ice from breaking again. If not, refer to the next step.
We're talking centipede-style low, and move steadily but not hastily toward the victim by crawling prone on your belly across the ice. Again, this helps prevent breaking the ice.
Once you reach the victim calmly perform the following:
• If you only have one line, secure a piece of your line that is between you and the "pullers" around the victim and have, your "pullers" on shore pull while you hold onto the victim as well. (This is done so that the pullers only have to pull the weight of the victim first to get him/her out of the water before pulling both of you to shore.) If you don't have others on shore, the victim can pull himself up using the slack in your line while you gently pull him to safety.
•If you have two ropes, have the victim grab the second rope and have the "pullers" pull the victim and then yourself to safety. If you don't have others to help, have the victim pull on the second rope while you gently help pull him from the water.
Get dry clothes on the victim and anyone else who was in the water as soon as possible. Warm the victim slowly and steadily, and keep him dry to prevent hypothermia.
Seek medical attention ASAP!
Even if a victim seems to be fine after the ordeal, it's important to be checked out by a physician to make sure vital heart and brain functions weren't harmed.