Fish house safety planning; thinking
about it now can prevent hazards and injuries

By Maj. Roger Tietz
DNR Enforcement Division


Tires need to be inspected: Nothing will take the energy out of trip like an unexpected flat tire.

A safety conscious owner will inspect the tires before heading out. Often overlooked, is if a fish house is stored out in the open over summer, the sunlight can impact the life cycle of the exposed tires. A tire can also lose its contour and shape after sitting in one place for an extended period of time.

Other simple things like proper inflation, ensuring the tires have legal tread depth, as well as the proper carrying capacity will help get you to your favorite lake in an efficient manner.

As a safety conscious person, you also need to respect the highway speeds that trailer tires are designed to operate at. An industry expert told me most trailer tires are designed for a maximum towing speed of 60 miles per hour. Exceeding this speed can diminish the tires’ safety features, so plan adequate time to get to your ice fishing destination.

This is also the time to think about the tools you will need to change a flat tire. Fish house trailers can be heavy. Without some planning, you may find yourself without the right jack and tools to complete a roadside tire change. I can tell you from experience, don’t rely on the jacking system provided with your vehicle. It’s likely it may not work when you need to lift your fish house.

Finally, as far as tires go, it’s a good idea to loosen and re-torque the lug nuts in your driveway at the start of the season. It’s no secret that fish house trailers will encounter a fair share of water. Water leads to rust and rusted lug nuts, particularly if the tires haven’t been removed for a few years. If you need to take a tire off alongside the road, it’s comforting to know the lug nuts have recently been re-torqued.

Axels and spindles: The unique thing about a fish house trailer is that it can be lowered to the ice. For this to occur, the trailer is more than likely designed with a spindle system. As a safety-conscious owner, you need to take time to safely crawl under and study the metal used to manage this system, as well as grease any grease zerks that are present. As these things travel down the road there is a reasonable give and take and bouncing that occurs on the trailer frame. Metal fatigue, as well as cracks can occur and if discovered need to be repaired. As offered earlier, it’s easier to be proactive and discover trouble before it finds you. A good metal shop should be able to help with this part of the safety inspection. I highly recommend that you take time to perform this inspection safely in your driveway before heading out for the season.

Propane safety: A common heating source is propane heaters and burners. With these heaters you need to ensure that the heating source is venting exhaust outside. It’s also a good idea to inspect the outside vents to ensure that birds or bees haven’t blocked the vent with a bird nest or hive material. It’s a simple task that will keep you safe.

Think about the propane hazards you face inside the fish house. Throughout the season you need to be inspecting fittings and lines connected to gas lights, stoves and heaters. Improperly connected fittings can loosen, leading to gas leaks and serious consequences. Often, when opening the main propane valve, you may get the faint smell of gas. Do some investigating. The smell could be coming from a cooking stove valve that has been bumped to the one position, or a gas light lever left in the “on” position. If you can’t find an obvious source, you need to stay diligent and continue to investigate.

If you smell gas/propane, a simple way to check for a leak is with a spray bottle of soapy water. With no appliances lit, spray the water in the vicinity of the odor and watch for the escaping gas to create bubbles. A heating technician can provide sound and tactical advice on how to identify and repair a leak once it’s located. Likewise, you need to do your research and determine that all of the fittings and lines are designed and authorized for use with propane. In the past, I’ve seen fish houses fitted with copper water lines, (not copper propane fittings), as well as rubber fuel lines. These shortcuts can put you at substantial risk. If you have questions about what lines are safe, contact a plumbing and heating store or a gas company. They will be able to provide you sound advice to prevent an explosion.

When it comes to heating, you need to be mindful of carbon dioxide. For an enclosed shelter, a carbon monoxide detector, as well as a smoke alarm and fire extinguisher are a must. Ice fishermen also need to respect sunflower heaters. These are a burner attachment linked to a 20 lb. propane tank. The manufacturer clearly provides labeling that states these types of heaters are designed for outdoor use. The owners of these devices need to heed this advice and keep them out of enclosed structures.

As far as propane, the final point related to safety is an important one. At no time should refillable propane cylinders be stored inside the interior of a fish shelter. Propane has the potential to expand and contract due to temperature. While great strides have been made in propane valve systems, it’s not a risk worth taking. Always leave propane tanks outside. That’s the safest place.

Slips/trips and needless falls: One final safety concept often overlooked is the real possibility of a slip or a fall as you enter or leave your ice fishing house.

The fish house doorway is constantly experiencing extreme temperature changes as it’s opened and closed. That action leads to condensation and dripping water, which is often overlooked. The natural place for it to land is on the ice outside the door. Often, as people exit and enter a fish house they will have wet feet. This leads to more water/moisture in the vicinity that freezes and becomes polished. Before you know it, you have a highly polished, slippery surface just outside the doorway that is destined to take someone down. Any easy way to mitigate this risk is to stop by a metal shop and have them build you a 3 by 3 metal step/platform you can lay on the ice outside your door. The platform should be constructed with four spike style corners to prevent it from slipping.

Another thing that works well is anti-fatigue floor mat material that is designed for industrial settings. This material can be laid on the ice and is easily removed when it’s time to leave. To prevent it from freezing down, take a moment each day to raise it; this should make it easy to remove and take with you when it’s time to leave.

Ice fishing is a great winter past time. I hope you find these tips useful and that they will lead you to an enjoyable and safe winter season. I will look forward to seeing out on the ice while out on patrol, or while I’m out fishing. Have fun and stay safe.

Laws of the Road

Fish House Safety – DNR Commentary

Fish Houses – DNR Commentary