By Mike Anderson

York Regional Police’s Marine Unit in Jackson’s Point is warning residents to exercise caution while on Lake Simcoe after responding to three incidents on the ice over the last few weeks.

According to a YRP media release, the most recent involved two ice fishers who fell through the ice riding an ATV at Duclos Point on February 3. While both were rescued, one of the men, a 69-year-old, later died in hospital.

Staff Sgt. Aaron Busby says this ice fishing season is especially treacherous as warm weather has prevented thicker ice from forming. He says residents should not drive vehicles, including ATVs and snowmobiles, on the ice until conditions improve.

“While there are some areas where the ice will support human weight, there are areas that are still wide open water,” Busby said.

“And while those areas may be thick enough to support human weight, not far off from that, there’s either ice that is newly formed or is deteriorated and won’t support people and certainly not machines.”

“We’re just asking people to use common sense and only go in the areas they know are safe.”

Still, if ice fishers are considering venturing out, Busby says they should be prepared.

They should wear a full floater suit, ice picks around their neck, and carry a fully charged cell phone in a waterproof container.

They should also let someone on shore know where they are going and when they are expected back. And to have that person contact the police if they don’t arrive in time.

Busby has some tips that might save your life if you fall into the water.

If you are submerged with your head under the ice, he recommends you raise your arms when you come up so you don’t hit your head.

“You need to get out quickly because the longer you’re in, the more your clothing will saturate with water,” he added.

“If you’re wearing boots that slip on and off, kick them off as quickly as possible. That way, you can kick yourself back up onto solid ice. But roll away from the hole and roll in the direction you came from.”

“You want to follow your tracks back. Because that ice supported you to a certain point and will support your weight.”

YRP Airboat Dawaabin: YRP Photo

While YRP will always respond to 911 calls, even when ice conditions are dangerous, Busby cautions to expect a delay.

“Unless we know that the ice is extremely safe, the only mode of transportation we will take out is our airboat, which needs to be trailered to the launch location and launched,” he said.

“We do it as quickly as possible. We train for it; we practice it over and over and over. However, it’s not an overly fast process, and you could be waiting a number of minutes for a rescue. And depending on your location and whether or not we can find you right away, that adds to the time it takes responders to get to you.”

“It is a vast lake. Lake Simcoe is 744 sq. km. If you were to put that in perspective, the City of Toronto is 630 sq. km. So, if you were to pick up Toronto and put it into Lake Simcoe, it would be an island. So asking us to respond within minutes is unrealistic and unattainable.”

Busby also stresses that YRP does not run a salvage operation, and submerged vehicles will be reported to the Ministry of Environment (MECP) and may be subject to fines.

“Their machine is their responsibility. And it is our responsibility to notify the Ministry of Environment when a machine goes through. It’s leaking gasoline and oil into our lake. This lake is for everyone to use, and we want to protect the environment.”

Busby adds that the YRP airboat is often deployed alongside the Georgina Fire airboat to ensure redundancy, which means a Town fee will be charged.

According to Georgina Fire Chief Ron Jenkins, residents and non-residents must pay that fee under the Town’s Fire and Emergency Services Fees By-Law 2023-063.

The Ministry of Transportation sets the rates, which is currently $559.86 per hour for each apparatus. Typically, three apparatus, including the airboat, will respond to an ice rescue.

While Busby acknowledges there will always be people going out on the ice, even when conditions are dangerous, he wants them to think twice before doing so.

“If they’re venturing out, I just want them to understand that it’s not just their own life that they’re risking; they’re risking the lives of the emergency responders that must go out there. It is the same dangerous environment for us as for them. So if we end up in the water, we are also in danger. So we ask that they use some common sense and utilize the lake when it is conducive to that recreational activity. And just don’t put themselves in harm’s way.”