Illustration of a man falling into the frozen lake

10 Hardwater Dos and Don’ts for Surviving the Canadian Ice Season

Follow These Rules to Ensure Your Winter Adventure Doesn't End in ragedy

If there’s one lesson ice has taught me (see “True tales of terror on the ice“), it’s that there’s always a potential accident waiting just around the corner. But trouble can be easily avoided by adhering to these dos and don’ts, no matter what your reason for being out on the hardwater.


  • Do keep an eye out for ice that changes colour, looks shelled or has spiderweb cracks, as it could be unsafe.
  • Do listen closely and pay heed to any unusual booms or pops—sometimes making for shore is the wisest plan.
  • Do take an ice-safety course, which is invaluable for learning the correct way to travel over ice and, if you do fall in, escape the clawing cold.
  • Do be prepared if you fall in. A set of ice picks, a flotation suit or even a stout ice pole that woodsmen use can make the difference (also see “Risk management”).
  • Do ask locals in the know about ice conditions and trouble spots when visiting new waters.
  • Do treat beaver dams with care (as my “Ice follies” mishap proved)


  • Don’t assume your back trail is safe, especially if things were sketchy on the way in. I’ve had ice swallow me up because I thought the return trip would be safe. Weak ice that’s been stressed can be all too ready to give way.
  • Don’t ever, ever venture out if there’s even the slightest question things could be unsafe. It’s not worth the fish, fur or fun, so stay on terra firma. Please.
  • Don’t trust snow-covered ice. Snow can hide thin or weak sections, or slush that can bog you down. Heck, a layer of frozen snow could even be covering open water. Ever look back at your sled track and see water boiling up? Yup, that’s bad.
  • Don’t be overly confident on any ice surface. Conditions change far more frequently than they did 40 years ago thanks to today’s extreme weather patterns.

New Brunswick’s Cary Rideout hopes his days of ice mishaps are long past.

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