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  • How to Survive a Fall Through Thin Ice

    How to Survive a Fall Through Thin Ice

    In early December, a firefighter rescued a Golden Retriever who had fallen through thin ice into a lake. Linda Park's dog, Dakota, wandered off during one of their usual walks, and he fell through the ice into the frigid water. Dakota grew tired of trying to climb out after a half hour, and a firefighter came to the rescue after a neighbor called 9-1-1.

    Capt. Tom Langevin of the Waterboro Fire Department put on a wetsuit, walked 50 feet onto the ice, crawled another 25 feet toward Dakota, and then jumped in to rescue the dog. Watch a video of their story:

    Of course, dogs are not the only ones in danger of falling through thin ice. More than 20 people have drowned in the last 10 years after falling through thin ice, more than 50 percent of which are due to failed attempts to rescue dogs or other people. Children are the most at risk; teach kids safety precautions when spending time around frozen bodies of water.


    How to Survive a Fall Through Thin Ice

    Keep Off The Ice

    Of course, the best way to avoid thin ice danger is to stay off frozen water. Venturing onto frozen ice is a bit like playing Russian Roulette, as some individuals will inevitably fall through the ice or become stranded on an icy island. Children are particularly attracted to iced-over lakes and canals for ice-skating opportunities.

    Rescuing Someone Else

    If a loved one or someone nearby falls through the ice, take the following precautions to ensure you don’t become another casualty.

    • Do not attempt to go out onto the ice yourself.
    • Call emergency services for assistance.
    • Instruct them to keep still to maintain heat and energy, and to anchor themselves to the edge of the ice to help them stay afloat. This can be done with safety spikes, a car key, or another sharp object they may have in their pocket, like a nail file or a pocket knife.
    • Throw or reach out with a rope, pole, branch, or item of clothing. While lying down or getting someone to hold onto you, attempt to pull the person to shore.
    • If these or a similar item is unavailable, try to find something that will float to throw or push out to them to keep them afloat until assistance arrives.
    • Continue to reassure and keep them talking until help arrives.
    • If the rescue is successful, they will need to be kept warm and treated for shock. They should be taken to hospital even if they appear to be unaffected by their ordeal.

    Rescuing Yourself

    • Carry a spud bar or walking stick to probe for thin areas and to use for additional traction and balance over slippery areas.
    • Carry safety spikes to help you stay afloat and climb out by anchoring into or gripping the ice. (See the videos below to learn how they work and how to make a DIY version.)
    • Carry fire starters in a tightly sealed plastic bag or waterproof container to re-warm yourself after your rescue. Keep the container in a zipped jacket pocket so it stays with you, as any items you carry may easily be lost in the water.
    • Wear a small waterproof backpack with essential supplies such as water, food, an emergency blanket, and a change of clothes. Keep the backpack lightweight so it doesn’t weigh you down in the water. If it pulls you down, remove it.
    • Wear a flotation suit.
    • When you fall in, hold your breath and try to resurface as quickly as possible if your head submerges.
    • Remain calm: panic will only make the situation worse, with potential hyperventilation, gasping, hypertension, and an increased pulse.
    • Spend the first minute concentrating on staying afloat. Tread water and lean back slightly.
    • Locate the strongest edge of ice and use your arms and elbows to lift yourself up as much as possible.
    • Lean forward onto the ice and kick your feet to “swim” out horizontally. This will be easier than attempting to pull yourself upward and out.
    • If you struggle to get out, keep as much of your body above the water as possible to minimize body heat loss. If you absolutely cannot get yourself out, stop struggling to maintain your energy and slow the process of hypothermia.
    • If you successfully exit the ice, do not attempt to stand up right away, but instead roll or crawl away from the hole. Do not stand until you are out of danger of falling back through the ice.
    • Retrace your steps back to safety.
    • Warm yourself and get help to avoid the onset of hypothermia.

    Want to make your own? Check out this simple tutorial from BigFishTackle.com


    Have you ever fallen through the ice or seen someone who has? What did you do?






  • DIY Solar Still

    If you were lost in the wild without any clean water to drink, making your own solar still could be a great way to get clean water until you can get back to civilization.

    But what is a solar still?

    A Solar still is a method of distilling (cleaning) water, using the heat of the sun to evaporate water from soil. Functionally, you’re turning the water from the soil into vapor, and then you collect the condensation to drink. Solar stills can range solar ovens to using a simple tarp over a hole in the ground.

    DIY Solar Still

    Distillation does a good job of removing many contaminants and pathogens.  It removes dirt, bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. It also removes metals such as lead, copper, and sodium. Distilling removes many things you are likely to find in the water, but not all.

    If something vaporizes at a lower temperature than water e.g. alcohol or gasoline, it will come out in the distillate. This means that distillation is not going to be useful for chemical contamination, especially in a do it yourself situation.

    DIY Solar Still Instructions

    Here’s what I did and what I learned when I made my own solar still. I decided to try a couple techniques for making a solar still that could apply in two different situations. Both techniques use the same materials.


    The Sun

    Bowl (about 12 inches in diameter, preferably larger)

    Mug or Plastic container (think Tupperware)

    Plastic Wrap or Sheeting

    A Weight (a rock, brick, box—anything heavy you can find to hold down the plastic wrap down)

    Shovel (or a tool or rock that can dig a hole)

    Plant Material (shrubs, grass, leaves, etc.)


    Solar Still #1: Coffee-Mug Still

    For the first one, I assumed a situation such as an earthquake or flood that leaves you in your home (sheltering in place), but causes a disruption in utilities. While normally you would have safe drinking water stored, in the event that you don’t—or it somehow became contaminated, you may need to make a simple solar still.  

    What I did:

    1. I put salt water in a bowl that is about 12 inches in diameter. I then put a coffee mug in the center of the bowl.  I placed the bowl on a table, directly in the sunlight.
    2. I covered the bowl in plastic wrap and put a weight on the center above the mug to direct the condensation toward the mug.  All that was left was to put it in the sun and wait.
    3. The contaminated water went into the bowl, then the condensation on the plastic wrap drips into an empty mug in the center, filling it with clean water.

    This method worked, but there were a couple major shortcomings.  The first time I tried it, the sky clouded up and I was rewarded with only a few drops of water for a whole day of waiting. The next try was better, but a day of sunlight still only yielded about one quarter cup fresh water. This would require a lot of bowls if you were relying on it for drinking water. I think an increase in surface area would make a big difference in how much water is produced.


    Solar Still #2: Pit-Style Solar Still

    The second method I used was more of a survival technique. You might use this type of solar still if you have to evacuate your home in an emergency and live off the land.

    What I did:

    1. I dug a shallow hole in my garden about 3 feet in diameter.
    2. I then filled the hole with plant material and placed a water collection cup in the center.
    3. Similar to the set-up described above, I once again covered the collection cup in a plastic sheet.
    4. I then placed a rock in the center to cause the condensate to run to the middle and drip into my collector cup.


    DIY Solar Still

    I did this on a hot sunny day, for the entire day, and collected around one third of a cup of water.

    DIY Solar Still

    What I learned

    The second method is energy intensive, both in terms of physical labor and in terms of the energy required to vaporize the water.  If you’re in a survival situation, you may want to weigh the outcome: the work required may not be worth the water produced. If you’re on the brink of dehydration, any amount of water could help you, so making a pit-style solar still could be well-worth it to you then.

    The Solar Still is a little tricky to get right, as well.  The clouds completely ruined my first attempt. On my second attempt I managed to get water, but it was disappointingly full of dirt from the plants I was putting in the pit.

    Given the right situation, however, I can imagine this process being fairly useful.  In a beach, swamp, or marshy area, the pit-style still would continually recharge with water from the soil. It would work passively and could be fairly productive.

    Since there’s so little water produced from the solar still, it’s important to use more than one method of water collection to make sure you have enough water to keep yourself hydrated. Check out the post “Finding Water in the Wild” for more water collection techniques to try out.

  • DIY Bow and Arrow


    Once a weapon of myths and legends, the bow and arrow can now be found in any sporting goods or outdoors store for bow hunting enthusiasts . . . And while there is a large selection of bows and arrows to choose from, have you ever wondered what it’d be like to make your own handcrafted bow?

    In a survival situation, knowing how to make your own bow and arrow could help you get food to feed yourself and your family—if you run out of MREs and Mountain House pouches and have to hunt. Also, if you know how to make a bow and arrow, you’ll have a back-up if yours breaks or you can’t take it with you when you evacuate. Knowing how to make a bow and arrow will make you more self-sufficient.

    So let’s put another notch in your survival tool belt. Here’s a basic how-to that will help you make a hunt-worthy bow and arrow set.

    Survival Bow Instructions

    The folks at Wildernesscollege.com came up with, what they call a “quickie” bow tutorial for beginning bow crafters. The reason why it’s called a “quickie” is because it is “made at the time the wood is harvested instead of waiting a year plus for the wood to cure (as is typical for regular bow construction.)”  The advantage is that this is ready to use right away (for survival situations); the down side is that it  may crack or break as it dries out.

    1.      Choosing Wood

    Some of the best woods for making bows include osage orange, yew, ash, black locust, and hickory, though most hardwoods can work (oak, maple, beech). Find a relatively straight 5 foot long (1.5-2 inches in diameter) section of sapling or branch that is free of knots, side branches, and twists. Cut this carefully so not to crack or split the wood.

    2.     Finding the Belly, Back, Handhold, and Limbs

    Stand the stave (the limb you just cut) on the ground and hold loosely with one hand, then push outward lightly on the middle of the bow. The stave will swivel to show you which way it is slightly curved. The outside is the “back” and the inside is the “belly.” Do not touch the back, as it receives most of the tension and damage can cause the bow to break.

     DIY Bow and Arrow

    Photo Courtesy of Wildernesscollege.com

    Find the middle and mark out your handhold area (3 inches from the center in both directions). The area above the handhold is the upper limb; the area below is the lower limb.

    3.     Shaping

    Put the bottom tip on your foot and hold the top tip while pushing outward from the belly (only push a few inches). Look at how the limbs bend and observe the areas that do not. Remove wood from the belly of the limbs where they do not bend and leave material where the limb bends a lot (DO NOT REMOVE WOOD FROM THE BACK!). The goal is to get the limbs to bend evenly. Remove material slowly and recheck frequently. The handhold and tips should remain straight or have very little bend.


    4.     Notches for the Bow String

    Once you have achieved even flex throughout the length of the limbs, you can carve small notches on both sides of each tip, being careful not to carve into the back of the bow.  They don’t need to be very deep, only enough to keep a string in place. Tie the bow string on (nylon, sinew, or plant fiber) so there is about 5 to 6 inches between the string and the handhold when the bow is strung. Do not pull back on the string yet.

    DIY Bow and Arrow Photo Courtesy of Wildernesscollege.com

     5.     Tillering

    This is the most time intensive part. Hang the bow horizontally on a branch or piece of scrap wood by the handhold. Pull down on the string a few inches and observe how the limbs bend. The limbs should mirror each other. If they do not bend evenly, continue shaping until evenness is achieved. Continue pulling down on the string until you are able to pull it to your draw length with the limbs being even (Your draw length is determined by holding the bow and pulling the string to your upper jaw).

    DIY Bow and Arrow Photo Courtesy of Wildernesscollege.com

     You also need to have a draw weight. 25-35 pounds is for small game, 40-60 pounds is for larger animals. Test draw weight by placing a five foot 2x4 piece of lumber vertically on a scale, balance the how on it horizontally (forms a T shape with the handhold resting on the lumber) and pull down on the string to the full draw length. The scale registers the draw weight.


    DIY Bow and Arrow Photo Courtesy of Wildernesscollege.com

    6.     Finishing

    You can now use the bow as-is. Do not fire the bow without an arrow. If you want to finish your bow, you can sand the belly smooth and oil it to prevent it from drying out too quickly. You can continually adjust the tiller and oil as necessary.


    Arrow Instructions

    Finished arrows need to be lightweight, yet strong. They also need to be straight, well-fletched (has about 3-5 feathers or other materials at the end to help them “fly”), have the right spine (rigidity), and be the right length for your bow. This arrow tutorial was found at Survival.Outdoorlife.com.


    photo courtesy of Survival.Outdoorlife.com

    Collect branches and straight saplings that are at least 30 inches long and have a diameter between 3/8 and ½ inch. Trim off side branches (or find some without side branches).

    Remember that the extra water of green wood will make the shaft heavier (unless you dry the wood for a couple months). Peel off the bark carefully and carve off any knots or branches. Straighten crooked spots by heating them for 30 seconds over an open flame, bend it a little beyond straight and hold until it cools.

    Cut a notch about ¼ inch deep into the end of the shaft (to attach to the bowstring while shooting). Be careful not to split the arrow. Cut a similar one in the head to receive a stone or metal arrowhead. Make a metal head by grinding and filing thin, flat steel pieces. Stone or glass can be chipped into an arrowhead. Add glue to the notch, insert the arrowhead, and wrap with twine or other fibers. Seal with more glue.

    DIY Bow and Arrow

    Photo courtesy of Sensible Survival Blog

    Fletch the arrow by gathering and splitting bird wing or tail feathers in half (they need to all be from the same side of the bird). Shorten to 4-5 inches and 1/2 inch wide. Space equally around the arrow and glue. Secure with the same cord used on the arrowhead (you can substitute duct tape for feathers in a bind).

    DIY Bow and Arrow

    Photo Courtesy of Primitiveways.com


    There you have it! Bow and arrows. Have you made some before? What are your tips for making or shooting?


    Additional Tips and Sources

    Survival Mastery: Bow and Arrow

    Field and Stream: Bow and Arrow

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