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How can you tell if your pond is safe to walk on? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: How can you tell if a pond is safe to walk on?

Q: How can you tell if a pond is safe to walk on?

Beth – Franklin, PA

A: Ice is fun—but it can be dangerous business.

Winter brings cold weather and snow to your pond or lake, as well as a perfect layer of ice for skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling and more. You may want to get out there and play, but it’s important to know whether your ice is safe and strong or a potential hazard.

Here’s how to determine whether the ice on your pond is thick enough and safe for wintertime fun.

1. Check Its Temperature, Formation

After about two to three weeks of freezing temperatures, a solid sheet of ice will begin to form on your pond or lake. But low temps aren’t the only thing that influence ice formation. Water currents, wind and snow coverage will also make a difference in the integrity of the frozen surface. So once the weather and temperatures stabilize after several weeks, you can venture onto the ice and inspect its thickness.

2. Check Surface for Quality

Ice quality matters. When you inspect the ice, you can visually gauge its quality by looking for bubbles, trapped snow and cracks. You can also determine its quality by color, as a solid blue ice sheet is much stronger than a white brittle layer, which is caused by air pockets and other flaws. Of course, new ice is stronger than old ice, too, as temperature fluctuations haven’t thawed and refrozen the ice, which can weaken its integrity.

In addition, if you’ve left your aeration system running while the ice has been forming, the ice layer will have air pockets—and be unsafe for winter recreation.

3. Verify Its Thickness

You’ve given the water time to freeze and the ice time to form, and you’ve ensured the quality of the ice sheet’s surface. The next step is to verify its thickness. You can either drill or cut samples—but make sure you do so in multiple locations as you work your way toward the center of the pond as the water won’t necessarily freeze evenly.

In general, a layer of ice less than 3 inches is too thin for most people to walk out on. It may be able to hold up lighter people or small animals but can easily crack. So if you plan to have a group of people on the pond or want to take your snowmobile out on your lake, an ice formation of 6 to 8 inches minimum is ideal.

4. Be Patient, Stay Safe

Winter recreation on an ice-covered pond is fun—but be patient and use extreme caution when venturing on the ice. Take time to inspect the ice quality and take samples because doing so can make all the difference between a blast and a disaster.

Always make sure you have a life ring or floatation device within reach in case someone accidentally falls through the ice. And always use common sense when venturing out—better to be safe than sorry!

Pond Talk: What is your favorite wintertime activity on your frozen lake or pond?

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Can I move my diffuser plates all to the shallow end of the pond so I can skate on the other side? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: Can I move my diffuser plates all to the shallow end of the pond so I can skate on the other side?

Q: Can I move my diffuser plates all to the shallow end of the pond so I can skate on the other side?

Adam – Locust Valley, NY

A: Though it would be nice to have the best of both worlds, a pond that’s aerated with diffuser plates is not safe for ice skating. Here’s why:

The reason you run a diffuser through the winter is to aerate the pond and move the water surface to maintain a hole in the ice, allowing for gas exchange. This ensures the water in your pond is well-circulated and your game fish and other underwater inhabitants have enough oxygen to get them through the cold season.

The trouble is that the ice that forms on the surface of water that has been moving for even a short time can be porous and not suitable for skating. Even movement on one end of the pond and not the other can make the ice at the edges unsafe.

If you want to use your pond for skating, plan in advance. Before the ice forms:

  1. Shut your aeration system down completely. It’s critical to do this before the ice starts to build on your pond’s or lake’s surface for the safety of those who will skate on the pond.
  2. Stow components away. Your airline and plate may stay in the pond, but the system’s cabinet and compressor should be stored indoors to prevent condensation and rusting.
  3. Have an emergency plan, just in case. While you’re prepping your lake for ice skating fun, now’s a good time to make sure you have water safety items available, too, like a Taylor Made Life Ring. If the ice breaks, a safety preserver like this can save someone’s life.

Even if ice skating isn’t your thing, it’s still important to follow this all-or-nothing aeration strategy. Running your system “part time” could cause condensation in the unit from the hot compressor cooling, causing rust to form. It could also allow moisture to get into the airline, which could then freeze.

Bottom line: If you plan on skating on your pond or running your aeration system “part time” for whatever reason, it’s best to shut it down completely. Otherwise, keep it running all season to ensure good water quality for your fishes.

Pond Talk: What’s your favorite wintertime activity at your pond or lake?

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I think my pond is spring-fed. If I shut down my aeration system, will the pond freeze enough for me to skate? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I think my pond is spring-fed. If I shut down my aeration system, will the pond freeze enough for me to skate?

Q: I think my pond is spring-fed. If I shut down my aeration system, will the pond freeze enough for me to skate?

Timothy – Newton, WI

A: Skating is a winter favorite for many people – and it’s even better when you’re doing it on your own pond or lake. Before we dive into answering your question, however, let’s go through the differences between a spring-fed pond and a catch basin pond.

Catch Basin or Spring Fed?

A catch basin pond is a reservoir filled with precipitation runoff from the surrounding area. The volume rises and falls depending on rainfall and snow melt; in the winter, when conditions are right and temperatures are below freezing, an unaerated pond like this makes a great skating rink.

A spring-fed pond, however, is fed by a spring or ground water. It keeps the pond’s water level fairly consistent, regardless of rainfall, but the moving water created by the spring could cause dangerous conditions – even if the aeration system is shut down for the season.

Stay Safe on the Ice

If you discover your pond is indeed fed by a spring and has constant water movement, follow these Ice Safety Tips before trying to use the ice rink for recreation:

  • Wait for Extended Cold Temps: Spring-fed ponds will take longer to freeze, so be sure temperatures are below freezing for two to three weeks before testing the ice formation. Remember that wind and snow coverage will also affect ice formation and its integrity.
  • Test Ice Thickness: Once you’ve given the water time to freeze and the ice time to form, the next step is to verify the ice sheet’s thickness. You can either drill or cut samples—but make sure you do so in multiple locations as you work your way toward the center of the pond as the water won’t necessarily freeze evenly.
  • Stay Far from Moving Water: Water current and movement will also affect ice formation, so steer clear from any inflow and overflow areas where water movement will weaken the ice.
  • Shut Off Aeration: Of course, plan to turn off your aeration system before the ice starts forming on your pond. The aerator will agitate the water, preventing it from forming into a solid, safe sheet of ice.
  • Be Prepared: In case someone accidentally falls through the ice, don’t venture out on your own, and always make sure you have a life ring or floatation device within reach.

Winter recreation – skating, hockey, ice fishing and more! – is one of the joys of owning your own pond or lake, but always use common sense when venturing out. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Pond Talk: What winter sports do you enjoy on your frozen pond?

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Are there any tips to making sure the ice on my pond is safe to stand on?

Are there any tips to making sure the ice on my pond is safe to stand on?

Are there any tips to making sure the ice on my pond is safe to stand on?
Nicki – Sandusky, OH

Winter brings not only cold weather and snow to your pond or lake but a perfect layer of ice for skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling and other fun as well. While you may be eager to get out on the ice this season, it is important that you know how to distinguish the difference between safe strong ice and a potential hazard.

There are a lot of different factors that determine the ice thickness on a water body. Temperature has a large part in ice formation of course but water currents, wind and snow coverage also play a role in how water freezes. You should see a satisfactory layer of ice form on your pond after two to three weeks of freezing temperatures. Once temperatures stabilize and the ice has time to thicken you can venture onto the surface and perform an inspection.

You can visually determine the quality of ice by looking for bubbles, trapped snow, cracks and color. A clear solid blue layer of ice is stronger than a white brittle formation caused by air pockets and other flaws. Keep in mind that a pond with a running aeration system will have air pockets and should not be used for recreation in the winter. Naturally new ice is stronger than old ice as there are less chances of warm weather thawing and re-freezing. Once you have inspected the surface of the ice you can drill or cut samples to verify thickness. Since a water body will not always freeze evenly you will want to take samples in multiple locations as you work your way out towards the center. A layer of ice less than 3 inches is unsatisfactory for most people to walk out onto. It may be able to hold up lighter people or small animals but can easily crack. If you plan on having a group of people on the pond or want to take your snowmobile out on your lake an ice formation of 6-8 inches minimum is ideal. Click over to our blog on Ice Formation for more information regarding ice thickness and formation.

Be patient this winter and exercise extreme caution when venturing onto the ice. Taking the extra time out to visually inspect your ice and take samples can mean all the difference between a fun day outdoors or potential injury. Always make sure there is a floatation device within reach in case of a fall-through and always use common sense when venturing out on the ice.

Pond Talk: How do you determine when it is safe to venture out onto your pond or lake in the winter?

keep your pond safe at all times with a life ring!