It’s an inviting sight — a massive expanse of lake frozen over and just begging for a pair of skates, boots or snowshoes.

But if you’re looking for a government declaration the surface of Osoyoos Lake is safe for a mid-winter excursion, you’re out of luck.

And you might be pushing the envelope if your adventure turns into a rescue operation.

The provincial Ministry of Environment is responsible for the “effective protection, management and conservation of B.C.’s water.” Federally, Transport Canada is responsible for the nation’s navigable waters.

Neither level of government, however, provides information on ice safety. Nor does the Town of Osoyoos.

“If it’s me, I haven’t been doing that,” said Jim Dinwoodie, the Town’s Director of Operational Services. “The lake itself is property of the province. It’s not ours.”

According to the Canadian Red Cross, many factors can affect a body of water’s ice thickness including the type of water, location, the time of year and other environmental factors such as:

  • Water depth and the size of the body of water;
  • Currents and other moving water;
  • Fluctuations in water levels; and
  • Changing air temperature.

Osoyoos residents — and those familiar with Lake Osoyoos — can tell you all about the lake’s varied depths, currents, fluctuations in its water level and temperature changes.

But there’s no single government agency — at any level — that actively monitors ice depth and can provide information on its safety.

That suggests users pondering a walk on the hard surface of Lake Osoyoos would do well to know a little about checking ice depth and what to do if their judgement is a little off.

The Canadian Red Cross provides some clues to determining the strength of an ice surface. The colour of ice may be the best indication:

  • Clear blue ice is strongest.
  • White opaque or snow ice is half as strong as blue ice. Opaque ice is formed by wet snow freezing on the ice.
  • Grey ice is unsafe. The grayness indicates the presence of water.

The Red Cross also encourages users to stay off the ice after dark.

The Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC offers advice to its winter anglers — those patient enough to cut a hole in the ice and sink a bobber looking for fish below. It’s sound advice for skaters, snowshoers and hikers.

It suggests users:

  • Make sure that the ice is at least 10 centimetres (four inches) thick if you’re fishing alone, and at least 30 centimetres (12 inches) thick before you bring out your family.
  • If no one is out on the ice yet, throw rocks first. If they break through, then of course stay off.
  • If rocks don’t break the ice, slowly walk out onto the surface and drill a test hole. Place a stick or your ice scoop into the hole to verify the ice thickness.
  • Consider wearing a PFD, and have some retractable ice safety picks to help pull yourself out should the ice break.

The best advice for users, however, might come courtesy of Osoyoos Fire Chief Rick Jones:

“Don’t go play on the ice,” he suggests. “Stay off of it; it’s unsafe.”

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End up in the drink? Who you gonna call?

The Osoyoos Fire Department appears to be the immediate local option for ice-water rescue, but Chief Rick Jones is quick to point out that’s not something his team practices every day.

“It’s one of the things we train for, but it’s not a priority right now,” he said. “We do it every once in awhile, but we haven’t done a lot of it.”

Instead, he added, his team is supposed to put out the call to Oliver Osoyoos Search and Rescue — and perhaps to ice rescue experts from farther away.

“It’s one of those things where you get your fingers slapped if you’re not certified,” he explained. “To get certified people down, it would take us two or three hours. We can go out and get them in about 10 minutes.”

The last time he can recall having firefighters on the ice was in 2008 as part of a joint rescue operation that also included local RCMP.

Osoyoos RCMP, said its detachment commander, would get involved in a rescue but doesn’t have the resources to do much on the lake.

“We would definitely respond (for a rescue),” said Osoyoos RCMP Cpl Jason Beyda. “Whether we can get out to the person (in trouble) safely, that’s another question.”

Local RCMP, he added, has its own boat but “we don’t have it in the water this time of year. We certainly don’t have any equipment that we can take out on to the water locally.”

The detachment, he said, does field calls from concerned observers watching users out on the lake.

“We’ve had people out there in the past with motorbikes — with studded tires,” he said. “We do get people calling to tell us there are people on the lake. There’s not a whole lot we can do.”

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