Life On The Lakes: Questions Frozen In Time

Life On The Lakes: Questions Frozen In Time


As I write this article, I am accompanied by the steady tap of fortydegree rain on my office window. The snow will be here soon and our inland lakes will be the host of a whole different sort of recreational activities. Just as in summer, we can divide frozen lake uses into the “quiet water” activities such as skating and ice fishing, and “powered” uses such as snowmobile and other offroad vehicles (ORV) including motor vehicles.

Over the course of the summer season, we have received a number of comments and questions about rules and regulations of frozen inland lake use. In this article, we will touch on the most common of the quiet water and powered questions. A majority of the regulations around winter use are set forth by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The Natural Resources Commission (NRC) also has a hand in the fisheries-based regulations.

Q: May ice shanties be left out on the ice for extended periods of time?

A: Yes, in Michigan, a house, structure or shelter placed on the ice of the waters of Michigan with identifying information placed on all sides of the structure may be left out on the ice of public waters. The state sets an end date for long-term shanty use by region, assuming the ice quality is still present. In the U.P. counties, the date is March 31. In the northern-middle regions of the state (Emmet County to Bay County) the date is March 15. In most of southeast Michigan, a shanty shall not remain on the ice beyond midnight on March 1. Note that so long as conditions support, shanties may still be used after the dates listed above, so long as the shanties are taken off the lake each day.

Q: Can snowmobiles go anywhere they want on the lake? Can they travel on any lake?

A: Snowmobiles, and even streetlicensed trucks, may travel over the ice of public waters, unless there is a “local control” to the contrary. Snowmobiles on public waters must stay at least one hundred feet from any person not on a snowmobile, including ice skaters and must stay 100 feet from ice skating areas. Snowmobiles must also stay 100 feet away from shanties, unless traveling at the slowest speed the machine can go. They must also operate at the slowest speed the machine can go between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. when within 100 feet of a home. Note that snowmobiles must gain lawful public access to the waterway to be able to use the frozen surface of the waters.

In regards to speed limits, the default “speed limit” for snowmobiles on frozen lakes is not to operate at a rate of speed greater than is reasonable and proper having due regard for conditions then existing. The DNR, via local controls, or municipality, however, may set specific speed limits for individual waterways in their jurisdiction.

As always, if you have winter use questions or other waterfront questions, please feel free to email us at

Linnell & Associates, PLLC is a real estate law firm specializing in assisting homeowners and real estate professionals in all aspects of real estate law.