When is Ice Thick Enough to Skate On?

I’ve lived on or near water my whole life — ponds, rivers, swamps, lakes, streams, you name it. And I’ve spent a good deal of my life swimming, sailing, and skating on it. So I’ve learned a lot about how wind, water, and ice work.

When it comes to ice safety, there are several factors that can affect ice stability. Like the size of the body of water (a pond will be safe long before a lake). How deep the water is underneath (the deeper the water, the longer it takes to freeze). Whether there’s any running water through it (best just to assume ice over running water is not safe). Whether there’s snow on it, how much, and what kind (snow acts as a thermal blanket and softens ice). And so on. So, if you’re not really familiar with the ice you plan to skate on, try to find someone who is, who can guide you.

Here is a general rule of thumb to determine safe activities by ice thickness:

  • 3″ (7 cm) (new ice) – KEEP OFF
  • 4″ (10 cm) – suitable for ice fishing, cross-country skiing and walking (approx. 200 pounds)
  • 5″ (12 cm) – suitable for a single snowmobile or ATV (approx. 800 pounds)
  • 8″ – 12″ (20 – 30 cm) – suitable for one car, group of people (approx. 1500 – 2000 pounds)
  • 12″ – 15″ (30 – 38 cm) – suitable for a light pickup truck or a van

If the snow flurries in the forecast hold off, we’ll be able to skate this weekend. Our pond is fairly shallow, so 5 inches is all we need to let the kids have a twirl without a worry. (We always keep a long line handy right at the edge.)

big pond

I always forget to get a shot of our smaller pond in the back. For those of you who’ve read Dogs of Dreamtime, this is the pond where I fell in through the ice, rescuing Molly, my deaf Australian Shepherd, from drowning. Brrrrr. Just remembering makes me shiver — oh, that was a cold night!


Because there’s a stream that runs through it year-round, it never freezes safely. As you can see, it’s fenced off now so dogs and kids can’t get back here.

9 thoughts on “When is Ice Thick Enough to Skate On?”

  1. I remember once when the neighbor was parked on 14 inches of river ice. He barred down through it and couldn’t touch the bottom with a six foot bar. He got this terrified look on his face and said “that ain’t a lot of ice for that much water”.

  2. Pappy’s Fella, there is an issue with the merle gene, which gives a dappled patterning effect in the coat). Many breeds have merles, not just Aussies. The merle gene can also affect eye color – thus the blue eyes.

    Deafness is most notably a problem for dogs with two merle parents. Reputable breeders will not breed merle to merle for this reason. Molly was an anomoly as she came from one merle and one black-tri.

  3. Yeah, I covet your setup minus the freezing cold and 4 o’clock winter sunsets. We have a deaf blue-eyed aussie shepherd at the dog park– is there a predisposition? I guess I’ve heard of prevalence deafness in white, pink-skinned dogs.

  4. Good tips Karen! I never knew the rules for this. We had a very small stream down the road from my house growing up that we all used to play on when it froze over. Thankfully it was only a couple of feet deep because one Winter we got a little over excited and went on it too early and one of my friends went right threw the ice…only up to her thighs thankfully. No injuries, just totally embarassed!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top