Many ice anglers have spent countless hours in an ice hut or a pop-up shelter pursuing their ice fishing passion. I’d be willing to bet most of them were expecting their ice huts or pop-up shelters to do one thing, keep the wind off them. The idea that their shelters may keep them afloat on dangerously thin ice probably never entered their minds, but times are changing.
Climate changes are causing safe ice to form late and vanish early. This has spawned the creation of ultra-light ice huts usable on dangerously thin ice that can float. The use of floating houses raises the question, do floating ice shelters pose a threat to their users and the ice fishing community around them?
A Brief History Of Ice Huts
Ice fishing has been around since before dirt. It was the principal way people in ice-bound regions found food. With this in mind, it’s easy to imagine the igloos built by Inuit Indians in northern Canada as the first ice fishing shelters.
In this past era, ice fishing involved spearing fish through holes. Makeshift structures around holes limited light and a fish’s ability to see anglers waiting with spears. In Europe, ice shanties first appeared in the fifteen hundreds. These were simply dark wooden huts with holes in the floor.
Over time, ice huts have evolved. Some are lightweight pop-up shelters; others are basic wood structures with a space heater, window, and a hole in the floor. Let’s not forget the wheelhouses and ice castles with all the comforts of home.
Whichever one you prefer, they all have one thing in common: their purpose is to keep you safe on top of frozen water, not floating on ice that’s little more than open water!
Are Floating Ice Huts Dangerous?
The answer to this question is a resounding yes; floating ice huts are dangerous. So are planes, motorcycles, and snowmobiles, but we continue to use them regularly. In the case of floating ice houses, the better question is, do the benefits justify the potential risk to their users and the ice fishing community around them?
How Are Floating Ice Huts Perilous?
Ice fishing is an individual sport, but a quick look at the cities of ice huts that pop up on frozen lakes every winter will confirm that ice fishing is also a communal sport. Anglers using homemade floating ice shelters on dangerously thin ice run the risk of going through the ice.
The risk users of floating ice huts choose to take also puts would-be rescuers in danger. Then there is the surrounding ice fishing community. It’s not hard to imagine an anxious angler seeing a floating ice hut.
Yes, it is the responsibility of every person stepping on a frozen lake to make sure the ice is at a safe thickness. But then, it’s everyone’s responsibility not to drive while drunk, and we all know how often that goes bad.
Why Floating Ice Huts Are A Bad Idea?
First, we need to understand why an ice angler would use a floating ice hut. A search of ice fishing forums reveals that most want to extend their ice fishing season. A second reason is to remain highly mobile. I admire their zeal for ice fishing, but I wonder if the risk is worth it?
Like boats, ice huts are most often made of wood, but wooden boats are designed to be watertight. Because ice huts are designed to be shelters from the wind and cold, they’re not built to be waterproof.
Should a wooden hut go through the ice, it would have some buoyancy until it began to fill with water. If the shelter has several people or a lot of equipment inside, it shortens the floating time.
Aluminum ice huts aren’t waterproof. Many have sprayed foam insulation intended to keep the cold out, not allow the shelter to float. Once again, it may float or bob briefly until it takes on water. Finally, aluminum and wood shelters require towing because of their size and weight.
Alternatives To Floating Ice Huts
Let me suggest a few alternatives to a homemade floating ice hut. It won’t be traditional ice fishing, but these products will keep you safe and extend your fishing seasons.
The easiest solution is to get a Striker Predator floatation assisted coat and the Striker floatation assisted bibs . Both offer Thermadex technology for icy conditions. They also feature Striker’s Surefloat technology with up to 2 hours of floatation for most users.
Next is the Nebulus flotation device. The Nebulus emergency flotation system straps onto an ATV or snowmobile. One cord pull inflates the Nebulus to keep you on top of the water or a snowmobile near the surface.
To keep out of the water, consider these products. Why not try a lightweight Jon boat? The plastic Pelican Intruder 12 is a 12-foot Jon boat that weighs in at only 126 pounds. It can easily double as an ice sled to pull your gear and keep you safe.
How about an inflatable craft? Elkton Outdoors' two-person fishing kayak is easily transported and inflated. There is ample space for hauling your gear onto the ice. Once you reach the thin ice, climb in and use the included oars to push yourself out further.
The Marsport inflatable boat is an inexpensive, lightweight alternative to a homemade floating ice hut. This inflatable offers space for your gear and has room for several anglers.
Wrapping It All Up
Floating ice houses seem unnecessarily risky, mostly because they are simply dangerous. Many are homemade and untested for safety or effectiveness. They also pose a threat to other ice anglers by giving the false appearance of safe ice.
Yes, it is every ice angler’s own responsibility to check conditions before venturing onto the ice, but as mentioned above, we’ve been told not to drink and drive for years; nonetheless, many still do. Ice fishing is a communal sport, and it is every angler’s responsibility to promote safe practices for themselves and fellow anglers around them.
Die-hard anglers should consider other options such as inflatable crafts, floatation-assisted fishing suits, or commercially available emergency flotation devices. Doing so will keep ice fishing safe and enjoyable for all.