Crashing through thin ice is one of the most gut-wrenching experiences possible. Once the breakthrough begins, fear and anxiety levels build.

The heart starts beating like an air hammer and the shock of entering ice-cold water takes your break away. Ice anglers must fight panic attacks in order to survive.

I know. I’ve gone through the ice three times. Once while running my winter trap line my feet plunged through river ice. My feet went down as I fell through six feet of water until they hit bottom and my body shot back up. Luckily, my head emerged through the ice hole and I pulled myself to safety.

I’ve gone through lake ice twice: once in three feet of water and once in eight feet of water. Each time panic rose but was fought back, and I escaped with just a dunking.

Ice travel by car, foot, four-wheeler or snowmobile, is a personal judgment decision. Winter ice has some unique qualities that can cause it to become unstable, and people who venture on the ice must use caution.

A fact to remember: Definite signs of pedestrian traffic do not always mean the ice is safe. Never take chances.

Most tragedies occur during early or late ice periods. Early-season anglers often forget that ice doesn’t freeze at a uniform rate. Late-season ice rots at an uneven rate due to water currents and the effects of sun and wind.

Prolonged freezing is needed to make safe ice. Heavy snowfall causes an insulating blanket over new ice, and can create treacherous conditions.

The following guidelines are just that: individuals must judge local ice conditions before travel begins.

One inch of solid ice is unsafe. Two inches will hold a single angler but calls for extreme caution.

Three inches is safe for several anglers spread out 10 yards apart. Four inches is safe for general foot travel. Five inches of clear blue ice is often considered safe for snowmobile travel providing sleds are widely separated.

Ten inches of ice will support cars with a two-ton gross weight or several snowmobiles. Twelve inches will hold a light truck, 15 inches will support a 2.5-ton truck and 20 inches will support a vehicle weighing eight tons.

Ice is flexible, and new ice is more resilient than old. A car moving across it at certain speeds set up a shock wave pattern. New ice absorbs shock waves but old ice does not. Ice travel by car can be an accident waiting to happen.

Drive at speeds under 10 miles per hour. Vehicles should be widely separated to diminish dangerous shock waves.

Those who drive on ice should be prepared to dive head-first from the vehicle if it breaks through, and almost anyone can dive six feet to land on safe ice far from the hole.

Carry these items in the event of a breakthrough: 20-50 feet of strong rope, life preserver and a sharp object for each hand to poke into the ice to pull yourself onto safe ice. A Styrofoam bait bucket will keep an ice angler afloat.

Use the buddy system, and never travel alone. Remain separated by10 yards. Solitary angers should realize that some air is trapped in clothing when they first plunge in but exaggerated movements will result in a loss of buoyancy and increase the chances of drowning unless rescued.

If help is not nearby, try to break rotted ice away to reach firm ice. Jab two sharp objects into the ice and slowly start kicking with your feet as you pull yourself onto the ice. Once up, roll rapidly away from the hole to safer ice.

Common sense is the ice fisherman’s best friend. Check local ice conditions before venturing out, avoid a river mouth or an area known for underwater springs, and don’t panic if a dunking occurs.

Keep your wits about you, don’t panic, be prepared for any emergency, and chances of survival on the ice are good.