Crews at U.S. Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor practice ice rescues Thursday. (Laura Johnston, RocktheLake)

They took running leaps from the ice and jumped in to the Cleveland harbor, floating amid ice chunks like they were inner tubes in a heated pool.

“It’s not too bad,” said members of the U.S. Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor. They wore football cleats studded with hardware-store wingnuts to keep from slipping — and dry suits, hoods and neoprene gloves to keep them warm.

The men — and they were all men Thursday morning — are either certified in ice rescue or earning their certification, said First Class Petty Officer Jonathan Lee. They took turns acting as the victim (either conscious or unconscious) and rescuers, pulling each other out of the water with ropes and backboards.

Ice rescue is a unique mission, said Lee, who originally hails from Florida. Only the Great Lakes district trains its crews how to save people from the ice.

The station had no ice rescues last year and so far none this year, Lee said. But the ice fishing season is already in full force.

The Coast Guard on Wednesday night made four separate ice rescues of outdoorsmen who became disoriented or were caught on broken-off ice floes.

The warmer weather means the Coast Guard is warning ice fishermen and snowmobilers of unstable ice conditions.

Tips from the Coast Guard:

  • Know the current and projected weather forecast. Stay off the ice in extreme fog conditions.
  • Tell a friend or loved one where you are going and the path of travel you will use to get there. Bring navigational equipment with you, such as GPS and a compass to avoid becoming disoriented. If you find yourself in heavy fog or low visibility, do not divert from your planned path of travel. Coast Guard crews will start their search with your known path of travel provided by the person who reports you as overdue.
  • Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature and wear a life jacket as a precaution in case you fall through.
  • Take the appropriate communication equipment with you, like a VHF-FM radio, flares, signaling equipment, lanterns, whistle or a personal locator beacon.
  • Carry ice picks, screwdrivers or similar tools that you can use to pull yourself out should you fall through the ice. Simple tools like these can save your life in icy waters where every minute counts.
  • Cell phones can be unreliable offshore and have limited battery power; especially in cold weather. If you do bring your phone, know how to obtain the GPS position from it, to provide to responders in the event of disorientation.