1. Before you leave, tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. Survival experts suggest that if you are not back by that time, the person should call for help.
2. Wait to walk out on the ice until there are at least 4 inches of clear, solid ice, with no open water or melting ice near shore. Open water and melting indicate unsafe ice. Carry an ice spud or chisel to check the thickness of the ice as you proceed. Thinner ice will support one person, but since ice thickness can vary considerably, especially at the beginning and end of the season, 4 inches will provide a margin of safety. Ice must be much thicker and more stable to support the weight of a snowmobile. Snowmobiles and ATV’s need at least 5 inches, and cars and light trucks need at least 8-12 inches of good clear ice.
3. Go out with a buddy and keep a good distance apart as you walk out. If one of you goes in the other can call for help (carry a cell phone). The companion can also attempt a rescue if one of you are carrying rope or other survival gear.
4. Wear a life jacket. Life vests or float coats provide excellent flotation and protection from hypothermia (loss of body temperature). Never wear a life jacket if you are traveling in an enclosed vehicle, however. It could hamper escape in case of a breakthrough.
5. Carry a pair of homemade ice picks or even a pair of screwdrivers tied together with a few yards of strong cord that can be used to pull yourself up and onto the ice if you do fall in. Be sure they have wooden handles so if you drop them in the struggle to get out of the water, they won’t go straight to the bottom!
6. Carry flares or an emergency signal marker so that you can be seen if you need to be rescued in a storm. Other storm survival equipment includes chemical hand warmers, flashlight and batteries, chemical light sticks, compass, reflective "space" blankets, portable camp stove with fuel, pocket knife or pocket tool, and matches or a lighter.
7. Don’t snowmobile or atv across ice at night or when it is snowing. Reduced visibility increases your chances for driving into an open or weak ice area.
8. Above all, avoid alcoholic beverages. Beer and booze increases your chances for hypothermia and increases the likelihood that you’ll make a stupid mistake that will cost you or a companion their life.