With approximately 11,000 lakes in our beautiful state, Michiganders have learned to utilize those lakes no matter what the season. Whether it’s enjoying a beautiful summer afternoon out on the water or on your five-gallon bucket trying to catch a walleye through the ice, we never waste an opportunity to be “on the water.”

Many of us lakefront homeowners enjoy either getting out there ourselves, or at least watching the goings on from the comfort of our homes during the winter months. While this year Mother Nature has been somewhat kind to us in terms of cold, most years, by now, we have ice thick enough to drive a car on it. If you are one of those who dare to venture out onto the ice to enjoy winter sports, you should be aware of some of the laws surrounding using the ice as your winter playground.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) places deadlines on ice shanty removal. For us in the Lower Peninsula that deadline is March 1, with the U.P. getting until March 15 to remove shanties. However, you should use common sense on when to remove your shanty. If, for instance, we experience a warmup and your shanty decides to take a dip in the lake, you can be fined between $100-$500, possibly charged with a misdemeanor and be sentenced to up to 30 days in jail. You will also be responsible for payment to whatever agency (either public or a private contractor) removes the shanty from the water. How would they ever know it is yours, you might ask? The DNR requires that you affix your name, address and driver’s license number or DNR sportcard number on all sides of the shanty and that it be at least two inches in height.

However, ice shanties are just the beginning. Perhaps you are a brave one who likes to take some sort of motor vehicle on the ice. You better be sure the ice can hold it before venturing out. If it goes through, not only can you be fined by the DNR between $2,500-$25,000, you will be forced to pay for the towing company to remove that vehicle from under the ice. Sometimes this can take several hours and you can be certain the company will be billing you for the time. A new law was also passed in 2014 that considers the loss of a vehicle through the ice “littering”, and you can be subject to additional fines under that law as well.

And before venturing out on a snowmobile, you should familiarize yourself with the standard practices as set forth by the DNR such as, you cannot travel at a speed greater than reasonable based on the current conditions and you cannot operate a snowmobile within 100 feet of a dwelling between midnight and 6 a.m. at a speed greater than the minimum needed to maintain forward movement.

In short – be smart, be careful and you shouldn’t have any problems. However, what if, let’s say, you’re in the comfort of your home, fire in the fireplace, cup of cocoa in your hands, watching the events on the ice and suddenly, out of nowhere a snowmobile blasts through your yard, onto the ice and, in the process, crashes into your seawall, leaving the sled damaged and the rider injured? Generally speaking, a homeowner is not liable to a trespasser who is injured on their property, and while persons utilizing ice for winter sports are technically not on your property, if they do venture on your land, either on purpose or accidentally, they are trespassing and you would not be liable for damages.