With the holidays behind us and a long winter ahead, this is the time of year when being cooped up indoors all the time starts to give some people the urge to venture outdoors for some healthy fresh air. They take to the slopes, to snowy trails or to frozen lakes to partake in some cold weather fun.

It is those fans of frozen fresh water who have us concerned at the moment. There have already been reports of Mainers falling through thin ice with tragic results. So while the urge to pull a nice bass through an icy hole or to speed a sled across a wide open frozen expanse may be almost unbearable, waiting a few more weeks for thicker ice is worth it.

It is important to remember that there is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice. With that in mind, here are some tips on maximizing your safety while enjoying ice-bound fun.

Four inches of clear ice is the thinnest ice that is safe to walk on. A minimum of five inches of ice is needed for ice skating, ice fishing, ice boating and snowmobiling, while eight to 12 inches of ice is needed to support the weight of a car — although you should avoid driving on ice when possible.

Many factors affect the strength of ice besides thickness. The recent warm weather could cause the ice to begin thawing, while the snow cover has an insulating effect, slowing down the freezing process. You can determine the thickness of the ice with a chisel or auger, or you can ask at a local bait shop or resort. Even if the ice is several inches thick, don't venture out alone.

If you feel the ice begin to crack beneath you, do not run. Lie on your stomach and spread your arms and legs, bring your arms together over your head and roll away from the crack.

If someone has fallen through the ice, the Maine Warden Service instructs nearby witnesses to employ the Preach, Reach, Throw, Row, Go method.

Preach — Shout to the victim to encourage them to fight to survive and reassure them that help is on the way.

Reach — If you can safely reach the victim from shore, extend an object such as a rope, ladder, or jumper cables to the victim. If the person starts to pull you in, release your grip on the object and start over.

Throw — Toss one end of a rope or something that will float to the victim. Have them tie the rope around themselves before they are too weakened by the cold to grasp it.

Row — Find a light boat to push across the ice ahead of you. Push it to the edge of the hole, get into the boat and pull the victim in over the bow. It’s not a bad idea to attach some rope to the boat, so others can help pull you and the victim to safety.

Go — A non-professional should not go out on the ice to perform a rescue unless all other basic rescue techniques have been ruled out.

So while you are out enjoying one of Waldo County's many frozen lakes and ponds, take the time to ensure that the ice is safe and that everyone knows what to do in an emergency. If everyone uses common sense and puts safety first, we'll all have a safe, fun winter on the ice.