How to avoid running aground
Running aground or grounding (also sometimes called a stranding) is often more of a nuisance than a danger. Knowledge, fast work and a little luck can often reduce the inconvenience to just a matter of minutes.
Obtain charts of local waters and learn how to use them. Install a depth sounder on your boat. Even with a depth sounder, you must anticipate shallower water; a depth sounder only measures the depth below the boat, not that ahead.
What to do if your boat runs aground
If your boat runs aground, first tend to any injuries and ensure everyone is wearing a life jacket. Next check the hull for damage. Turn off engines to prevent the cooling system from ingesting damaging matter such as sand. On inboard/outboard and outboard-powered boats, lift outdrives to prevent propeller and lower foot damage.
If the hull is watertight, you can often refloat the boat by shifting weight, such as passengers and movable gear, away from the impact point and pushing the boat into deeper water. If the hull has been breached, consider remaining aground to prevent sinking and seek professional assistance.
If you run aground on a rising tide, time will work with you. During a falling tide, you must work quickly to avoid being stranded for several hours.
A small boat with a shallow draft can be freed easier than a large deep-draft boat. Tilt up outboard motors or stern drives to reduce draft at the transom. Don’t run your engines; you could pump sand or mud into them.
On larger powerboats, you may be able to get afloat by shifting weight to the stern. Adults can sometimes push the boat into deeper water. Before attempting this, however, make sure you can get back into the boat easily. You may be able to refloat the boat by rocking it from side to side to create wave action. This can also work for small sailboats with their centerboards raised. Wear life jackets and attach safety lines to yourself when attempting any of these maneuvers.
How to free a large sailboat
Large sailboats are more difficult to free when grounded. Several methods may be tried:
- Hoist a mainsail to a beam wind; use the wind to help push you off.
- Place an anchor in deeper water and provide a steady strain on the anchor rode using block and tackle or a winch for leverage. Called kedging, this can be done with assistance from another boat or by using your dinghy to place the kedge anchor in deeper water some distance from your boat. You may be able to free the grounded boat by slowly hauling in the anchor rode.
Heeling a sailboat to one side may reduce draft enough to free the keel. To do so,
- Move the crew to the low side.
- Place a heavy crew member at the end of the boom while holding it at a right angle to the low side of the boat.
- If this doesn’t work, try hoisting the mainsail to the beam wind and use the wind to help push you off.
Another way to heel the boat is to rig a halyard to an anchor set off the beam. Slowly winching in the halyard may sufficiently reduce the draft.
You could also ask another boater to pull on the halyard with his boat, but be careful not to put too much strain on the line when pulling from the top of a mast. You could damage the rigging or jam the block at the masthead. You might also ask another boater to run past with his shallow draft boat, creating a wake that might lift you free. If all else fails, call the U.S. Coast Guard or a commercial towing company for help. Before doing so, you will need to know your estimated position.
Stay safe on the water
Learn how to handle common emergencies while underway. Take our Emergencies on Board seminar to keep yourself and your crew safe.