Right of Way and Safety Guidelines


2015 National Iceboat Authority Racing Rules Change Summary

Constitution and Racing Rules of the National Iceboat Authority

Hal Chamberlain's graphic depicts the running conditions pilots will encounter on the ice and how they should be handled by both skippers.

Before you take the helm to mix it up with the rest of the fleet, be sure you have a good mental map of how you are going to integrate these guidelines with current conditions such as:

  • wind and weather
  • areas of ice that may be unsafe or more demanding to navigate
  • spectators walking on the ice
  • the competence and experience of your fellow iceboaters

New sailors may find these tips helpful for learning the basic rules.
Also, see the National Iceboat Authority

Right of Way Graphic

National Iceboat Authority
Right-of-Way Rules Graphic

Three Discovery Channel Videos
Dr. Giesbrecht on Cold Water Survival

Cold Water Survival

You're Out, Now What?

Getting that Sinking Feeling


 Properties of Ice

Bob Dill's Lake Ice

Explaining Ice: The Answers Are Slippery


 How Strong is Ice?

Safety on Floating Ice Sheets -- US Army Corps of Engineers

Ice Engineering -- Safe Loads on Ice Sheets -- US Army Corps of Engineers

The above publications offer a simple formula to estimate the minimum ice thickness required to support a load as  where h is the ice thickness in inches and P is the load, or gross weight, in tons. As Bob Dill of Lake Ice rightly advises, this is the minimum value, and if you compute the value for an average 200 pound person, you will get a value that is dangerously close to the threshold of where you will most assuredly break through. A more conservative equation that is more in line with the Minnesota DNR advice would be to double the resulting thickness values derived from the above equation.  The original chart was developed with shipping military cargo in mind where some risk was assumed. When exploring any natural sheet of ice less than 4 inches thick you need to have your wits about you at all times, exercise extreme caution until you have mapped the sheet, and be prepared for self rescue.

The equation, graph and table assume clear, sound hard black ice. If soft white snow ice, or hard ice filled with bubbles makes up part or all of the ice thickness, a much more conservative approach must be taken and the safe working values for thickness need to be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled. Any recent large snowstorm creates a new load on the ice. If the new snow is heavy enough, the ice sheet will sag in places or the entire sheet may become submerged as it attains its new buoyancy level. Water will slowly flood the new snow on the ice from below as it bleeds through cracks and small holes in the ice, creating a slushy mess just below what may look like a pristine cover of snow. Until this slush is completely frozen, the ice is very soft, weak, and unstable -- the best advice it to stay off of it -- self rescue or assisted rescue is extremely difficult in these situations. When the saturated snow becomes completely frozen, it is an added thickness of white ice, which is not nearly as strong as the hard black ice that originally formed the surface ice layer.

For new sailors, I offer the following tips which may aid in memorizing the basics. Look at the situation and step through these tips sequentially to arrive at the correct course of action.  Is a difficult situation developing around you? Are you both on or off the wind?  If so, who has the right of way?

Keep your distance from others on the ice.  Keep track of boats which may  be overtaking you. Don't attempt to sail in close formation with a big stern steerer or other boat. Never do a high speed pass through the area where pedestrians are congregating or boats are parked.  Be alert for boats that may be having trouble in gusty conditions and give them a wide berth even if it means going off your line. Collision avoidance is your highest priority.

Boats tacking to windward or "on the wind" always have the right-of-way over those running downwind or "off the wind" irrespective of  which tack (port or starboard) they are sailing.
Going upwind, the right-of-way is yours over a boat running downwind.
Going downwind, shift out of the way for a boat "on the wind".

3a & 3b.   RIGHT = RIGHT
When boats are on opposite tacks but are headed in the same direction (upwind or downwind), the boat on the starboard tack has the right-of-way. When the wind is coming from your right, you are on the starboard tack and have the right-of-way. Hold a steady course until the other boat has safely navigated around you.

Email John Sperr




HRIYC.ORG is neither the official website, nor am I the webmaster, of the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club. I am a long standing member of the Club -- during the sailing season,  I frequently post photographs and information on this, my own personal website, about current ice boating activity in the Hudson Valley and beyond. I am the sole person responsible for the presentation of content and the opinions expressed herein. Interesting photographic contributions are welcome and appreciated -- I spend most of my time on the ice skippering and far too often fail to capture the best images the day has to offer.                                                             JAS

ŠJohn A. Sperr MMXVI