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Running Aground (Ship Grounding)

What is Running Aground?

Running Aground occurs when there is no longer deep enough water to float a vessel. This will sometimes be done intentionally, for instance to perform maintenance or to land cargo, but more than likely it occurs due to misinformation about water depths, operator error, or a change in the bottom structure of a waterway.

What is the Best Way to Avoid Running Aground?

Unfortunately, running aground is a common occurrence for boaters. But it doesn't have to be.

If you follow these three guidelines, you should steer clear of rocks, sandbars and other underwater hang-ups that'll bring your happy day of boating to a grinding halt.

#1 If you're boating in unfamiliar waters, take some time before launch to consult a nautical chart of the area. You should also talk to local marinas and boaters to get the inside scoop on local underwater hazards. They know where to go and where not to.

#2 Always keep a proper lookout while boating. Not only should you be looking for buoys and markers that indicate shallow waters, but you also need to keep your eyes peeled for shoals and sandbars that can be hard to spot. You might be surprised to know that most accidents happen on calm, clear days with light winds. Often it is simply not keeping a lookout that gets boaters into trouble.

#3 Always maintain a safe speed. This will allow you to take necessary action if you do spot an underwater hazard that needs to be avoided.

A final tip is that if you have a depth finder, you can set a shallow alarm alert to give you the heads up if you are headed towards somewhere you don't want to go.

But remember that a depth finder does not replace the need to always keep a proper lookout. Never rely solely on a depth finder.

man in boat that has hit large gray rocks in the water

What Should You Do If Your Boat Runs Aground?

So, your day of boating has come to a sudden stop. What now?

Like any accident, the first step is to stop and assess the situation. So, stop the engine and check if anyone is seriously hurt.

If the answer is yes, contact the authorities on your VHF radio and send out a distress signal right away to alert other boaters that you need help.

If no one is seriously injured and you're not in immediate danger, take a moment to check your boat's hull.

Has the boat sustained any serious structural damage? Do you see any cracks or leaks?

If so, stay put. Do not venture into deeper water. It's time to get your boat to shore. Flag down another boater for a tow or radio for assistance.

If there's no structural damage, it's time to try getting your boat loose.

Depending on what you're grounded on and how severely your boat is hung up, you may be able to get back on the open water using one of the following methods.

The first is reversing off. If your boat is not grounded too severely, you may simply be able to reverse off from where you're grounded. Put your engine into reverse, tilt the engine slightly upward (if it's an outboard or an inboard/outboard), and then shift some weight away from where the boat is grounded. Now try to reverse your boat into clear water.

Another method is pushing off. If reversing out doesn't work, turn your engine off. If you have an outboard engine, lift it out of the water. Now, shift some weight to the part of the boat that is not grounded. With the weight off of the grounded part of the boat, use your spare oar or paddles to push off of the bottom. If you ground your boat on a sandbar, there may be enough sand around your boat that you can stand on the sandbar and try to push your boat off. With your engine turned off, lift the bow or stern, and push your boat into deeper water.

Finally, you may need to use a kedge anchor. A kedge anchor is a small lightweight anchor that is used to haul a grounded boat off from where it has run aground. Typically, a kedge anchor will be brought from shore in a small dinghy. But it can also be walked out to the location of your boat using a PFD or flotation device as support for the anchor.

a boat with a kedge anchor next to a sign for wind or current

Once at the boat, attach the kedge anchor to the anchor line, set your anchor securely on the bottom, and use it to pull the boat off from where it is stuck.