The aim of this work is to compare macroturbulent coherent structures (MCS) geometry and organization between ice covered and open channel flow conditions. Velocity profiles were obtained using a Pulse-Coherent Acoustic Doppler Profiler in both open channel and ice-covered conditions. The friction imposed by the ice cover results in parabolic shaped velocity profiles. Reynolds stresses in the streamwise (u) and vertical (v) components of the flow show positive values near the channel bed and negative values near the ice cover, with two distinctive boundary layers with specific turbulent signatures. Vertically aligned stripes of coherent flow motions were revealed from statistics applied to space-time matrices of flow velocities. In open channel conditions, the macroturbulent structures extended over the entire depth of the flow whereas they were discontinued and nested close to the boundary walls in ice-covered conditions. The size of MCS is consequently reduced in scale under an ice cover. The average streamwise length scale is reduced from 2.5 to 0.4Y (u) and from 1.5 to 0.4Y (v) where Y is the flow depth. In open channel conditions, the vertical extent of MCS covers the entire flow depth, whereas the vertical extent was in the range 0.58Y–1Y (u) and 0.81Y–1Y (v) in ice-covered conditions. Under an ice cover, each boundary wall generates its own set of MCS that compete with each other in the outer region of the flow, enhancing mixing and promoting the dissipation of coherent structures. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.