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Lake safety, frozen or not...

We were devastated to hear three boys have lost their lives and one remains in a critical condition after falling into a frozen lake. The four children are understood to have been playing on the ice when it cracked and gave way beneath them, causing them to plunge into the water. Several of their friends then reportedly ran onto the lake in a bid to help before falling in themselves.

Would you know what to do if you witnessed a child falling into a lake? How would you react? Could you save their life?

Here's three methods to help, including what you should and shouldn't do:

1) Talk the Victim out

Do not run out onto the ice. Would-be rescuers frequently become victims when they fall through the ice as well. You should avoid approaching the hole in the ice unless the victim is unconscious or in imminent danger of slipping into the water and drowning, either from weakness or an inability to swim. If you do have to approach the hole as a last resort, then you should still not run or walk, but crawl, to minimize the impact of the weight.

Call for help. Dial 999 to have trained rescuers/paramedics sent to the scene ASAP. Do this very quickly, and not leave the victim at any cost. If you waste time calling for help instead of helping the victim, the consequences will be dire.

Tell the victim to remain calm. If the victim just fell in and remains conscious, he or she can most likely get out without physical assistance. Tell the victim to keep calm. Reassure the person that you know what to do and that you will come to them if necessary. Let them know, truthfully, that as long as they stay afloat, they have plenty of time. They'll experience a "cold shock" for the first 1-3 minutes, during which they'll hyperventilate, so the important thing is for the person to keep their head above water. Encourage the victim to control his breathing to stay calm. They will most likely be hyperventilating. Advise them to take deep, slow breaths through pursed lips.

Tell the victim how to escape. Tell the person to swim to the edge of the ice and use their elbows to lift themselves partially out of the water. Have them go to the edge of the ice where they coming from, since it held their weight up until that point, whereas the ice around the other edges might be weak. The weight of their wet clothes will probably make it impossible for them to lift themselves up out of the water––the main objective is for them to just get a grip on the edge of the ice, so don't let them waste energy trying to pull themselves out. If they have any keys or sharp objects to use as picks, especially ice picks, encourage them to use them to get a grip on the ice. Instruct the victim to kick his/her legs and to try to get as horizontal as possible while using their upper body to drag themselves out. They should kick their legs as they would if they were swimming and come out of the hole in a horizontal position, with their belly on the ice. Once the victim is out of the water, they should roll away from the hole to minimise the impact of their weight on the ice.

2) Pull the Victim out

Preferably use a vessel. If you happen to have a light boat or any floating vessel such as a Surfboard/SUP that you can push across the ice ahead of you, you should push it to the edge of the hole, get into/onto it, and then pull the victim on too. This can help you get to them safely not risking your own life to save them. You can then reach out to them with your arm or a long object.

Throw a long object toward the victim. If the victim cannot get out on their own and help has not arrived, you should throw a long object that the victim can hold on to, such as a pole, a rope, a tree limp, or even a long scarf. Connecting yourself with the drowning person with a long object will keep you out of harm's way. Once the object reaches the victim, they should wrap it around themselves as much as they can. If using a rope or scarf, tie a loop at one end so they can hold it with their hands or over head to wrap around under their arms.

Form a human chain as a last resort. If you don't have any rescue devices but you're with multiple people, then you may need to make a human chain to rescue the individual. To do this, you'll need to have the rescuers lie on the ice as closely as they can, forming a chain by holding on to the ankles of the person in front of him or her. The person at the front of the chain, who is closest to the victim, should grab the victim by their hands and should pull them flat onto the ice while the person at the end of the chain pulls the chain back.

Pull the victim out. Stay low, stay off the thin ice, and pull hard. If you have helpers, have them use their strength to assist with pulling and with staying away from the thin ice. Whether you're pulling the person as the lead in a human chain or you're pulling them up with the help of a rope, the victim should be dragged across the ice instead of being lifted and carried.

3) Maintaining Life

Perform cardio-pulmonary recussitation (CPR). If the victim has stopped breathing or has no pulse, either from drowning or from sudden cardiac arrest, perform CPR on the victim. If you are on your own, use the hands-free speaker on a phone so you can start CPR while speaking to ambulance control.


Here's some additional downloadable posters:

Download PDF • 198KB

Download PDF • 217KB

Download PDF • 191KB

Even if the person appears to be dead, do not give up. Icy water can lower body temperature and slow down body functions, and just because the person isn't moving or responding doesn't mean they aren't alive and in need of help. Keep doing CPR until help arrives or keep yelling for help if you don't know how to do CPR.


If their heart has stopped, ask someone nearby to call 999 and locate and bring back a defibrillator/AED which will re-start the person's heart. You do not need any specific training to use a defibrillator. Often they're found in old phone boxes or on the out side of community buildings. Take time to find your most local AED as using one significantly improves the chances of survival in any cardiac event for adults or children.

Warm the victim. If the victim is breathing and conscious, bring him or her inside or somewhere warm. Remove wet clothes and immerse the person in warm water and give them a hot drink to raise their core body temperature.

Avoid future falls by always checking the thickness of the ice around you. If you want to prevent future falls through the ice, you should always know the thickness of the ice where you'll be fishing, walking, snowboarding, or doing whatever it is you do on the ice. You can check the thickness of the ice by using an ice chisel, ice auger, cordless drill, or tape measure, and by calling the local bait shop or lakeside resort to ask about the ice conditions in the area. Here are the appropriate thicknesses for each activity:[10]

  • 2" (5 cm) or less: Stay off the ice. The ice is too thin and won't support your weight.

  • 4" (10 cm): appropriate for ice fishing or other on-foot activities.

  • If in doubt, don't risk it, stay off the ice altogether.

For further info, we recommend this text and video resource on the St John's Ambulance website about how to give CPR on babies, adults and children.

Did you know we teach vital life saving skills to all our children in the swim school and our adult learn to swim programme too? We also teach safe cold water immersion in our Cold Open Water Swimming Course and offer Beginner Open Water Skills courses.

Get in touch with us at or to find out more.


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