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How to Make

Ice Claws

Ice claws


Save yourself! Make a set of ice rescue claws.

Danger startes when winter's first ice is skimming Minnesota lakes and ponds and with it comes ice tragedy season.

Every year we hear of people drowning because they broke through ice they thought was safe. We think to ourselves, "If I fell through, I'd just climb back onto the solid ice and be just fine."

Unfortunately, this can be much easier said than done. First, when you fall through the ice, you're taken by surprise (if you knew you were going to break through, you wouldn't have walked there in the first place, right?) The sudden shock of your body plunging into freezing water adds to the confusion and panic. Cold water saps body heat 25 times faster than air of the same temperature. Just try holding your hand in a sink full of ice water for more than a few seconds and you'll see what I mean.

Then comes the difficult task of pulling oneself out of the cold water onto the surface of the wet and slippery ice. Unless you have a plan of action for just such emergencies, your chances of getting out safely can be pretty slim.

To increase your chances for surviving a sudden icy dip, you can purchase a set of commercially made ice rescue picks or "claws" or, if you have a few simple tools and a little skill in the workshop, you can make a set for a couple of dollars for materials.

1) Get two 4" pieces of wooden doweling the size of a broom handle or a little larger. Whatever material you select, it should float in case you drop the claws while struggling.

2) Drive a stout nail into one end of each dowel. This should be a hardened 16 penny or larger concrete nail.

3) Use a file to sharpen the nail heads to a point.

4) Drill a hole into the dowels (in the end opposite the nail) and tie a length of strong cord through the hole so a pick is on each end "jump-rope" fashion. You may also drill a hole in the ends alongside the nails so the nail on the other pick can nest in the hole, keeping both points covered. Keep the picks in your pocket for quick emergency access if you or a companion do break through.

Splashdown! If you do break through, try to remain calm. Turn in the water towards the direction you came from - that is probably the strongest ice.

Dig the points of the picks into the ice and while vigorously kicking your feet, pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice.

Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.

Get to shelter, heat, warm dry clothing and warm, non-alcoholic, and non-caffeinated drinks.

Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering, or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia, (the life-threatening drop in the body's core temperature.)

If your buddy breaks through, first tell them to "Stay calm" and that "We'll get you out of there in a second." Then throw them the picks and explain how to use them. Remember that by kicking their feet, the thrust of the kicks can help push them back onto the solid ice.

For more information, contact the Minnesota DNR for their free ice safety and hypothermia prevention brochures. Metro (651) 296-6157, or toll free in Greater Minnesota (888) 646-6367.


Original location of information

Copyright 2007 MN DNR


Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2007. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Web Site (online). Accessed 2007-12-6 at


Last Updated on December 6, 2007
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