Quick and Dirty Ice Claws

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by Bob Dill
September 1989 (Revised January 1991)

Most people who iceboat for a number of years find themselves in the water sooner or later. If you ever find yourself in the drink one thing you will really WANT to have is a pair of Ice Claws. They are also called Bear claws, ice awe, ice picks and other things. Being able to get out quickly is key to surviving immersion in 32 degree water.

Ice Claws make getting out a very easy. Many of the people who die on ice do so because they don't have ice claws and can't figure out how to get out without them. Getting out without ice claws is possible if you know how, but it is much less reliable (see Self Rescue Technique). Anyone who is on the ice should ALWAYS have a pair of ice claws with them.

In Vermont we have had two problems with them. First, they tend to reside in tool boxes rather than with sailors. We have had more than one solo sailor go for a swim with their ice claws launch site. So far they have been able to extricate themselves.

The other problem we used to have is that many sailors didn't take the little time it takes to make themselves a pair. To address that we mass produced about 50 pair of crude ones. These have been given to everybody and anybody. No one seems to object to their rough finish when they are given a pair.

The basic materials are 3/4" by 1 " hardwood strips, 20 penny common nails, Velcro and 3/16"" nylon rope. The drawing shows one of many designs and a minimum investment construction method. Make a lot of them. A batch of 50 won't last very long if you are reasonably diligent about giving them away. One person can make about 10 in an hour of working time.

Once you have made plenty of them, give a pair to everyone you know who spends time on the ice. A brief account of the difficulty of getting out without them will help assure that they don't get left at home. Put a couple in your pockets and a few more in your tool box to give to people on the ice. Sooner or later you will save somebody's life.

There are several styles and ways of making them. The method shown and described here is for making a bunch with a minimum investment of time and money.

  • Prepare the nails by cutting them off with a bolt cutter (or hack saw). The length from the pointed end should be 7/16" shorter than the amount your 13/64 drill sticks out from your" drill chuck. Make a nail nipper gauge by drilling a hole(s) in a board the right depth to bolt cut the nails to the correct length. 20 penny common nails were chosen because they are plenty strong enough but they are much easier to cut than cement nails.
  • Velcro: Velcro Hook is glued to the bodies. Use 2" wide hook. if you can get it, use #800 (or" equivalent). It has 0.008" monofilament in the hook and is stronger than #650. your sail" maker may be a good source. Store the hook tape flat and unwrinkled. It will be much easier to glue on that way. Cut it into 1 1/2" lengths to be glued across the bodies before they are cut" apart.
  • Use 1" wide pile (loop) tape to hold the halves together. cut it into about 5" lengths.
  • Note for step 6: The 13/64" hole for the nail should be about 7/16" longer than the nail. Assemble one pair far enough to check that the hole depth and nail length are proper.
  • Note for step 7: Putting a flat weight on the VELCRO hook will hold it down while the epoxy cures. This may not be necessary if you have kept it flat and wrinkle free.
  • Note For Step 11: Wet the hole and nail with epoxy before pushing the nail in. You often have to push the nail fairly hard to get it all they way in because of excess epoxy in the hole.
  • Note for step 13: Prepare lanyards by cutting the nylon rope into 48" lengths and fusing the" ends. Both ends of the lanyard are pushed in from the side opposite from the VELCRO. An overhand stop knot keeps them in.

The safest way to wear them is to put the lanyard over your head and under one arm. The lanyard is designed to be short enough so they won't flop around. It's length can be adjusted with a slip knot stopper knot.

If you have questions or suggestions give me a call.

Quick Ice Claws drawing