The question a boater needs to ask themselves is not "if" they are going to run aground, it is "when". When it happens and how a captain deals with the situation is very important to the safety of the crew and to minimize damage.
Obviously, having the ability to read charts can mitigate the risk of grounding but what if you are in uncharted waters or shoaling has taken place since
the charts were published?
Below are some tips on how to deal with a grounding of your vessel:
The first reaction for most of use who have run aground is to immediately shift into reverse and try to power off the shore. There are implicit dangers in taking this action. Engine intakes may ingest mud or vegetation that can cause imminent engine failure or unseen objects in shallow water can easily damage the propeller.
More importantly, the hull could have suffered damage in the grounding and returning to deeper water may cause your vessel to sink. Take time to assess your situation before taking any action. Be sure everyone is wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). Inspect the hull and check for a breach of the hull. Assess the water depth in front and behind you, the wind and current conditions and state of the tide. Having a dingy along can greatly assist in this inspecting your hull and possibly placing a kedge anchor out to keep you from further grounding.
Damage to the Boat
If you find damage after completing your initial inspection, take action to secure the boat and control the damage. It may be wise to set an anchor to prevent further movement of the vessel. It may be wise to contact the Coast Guard and alert them about your situation even if you are not in immediate danger. Your primary objective is not to cause additional damage to your boat or place passengers at risk while trying to resolve a grounding.
Calling for professional assistance is often the least expensive option if you cannot easily resolve your situation.
Freeing your vessel will depend on your circumstances. Many boaters operate in areas where there are tides. If the tide is rising, anchor in the direction of wind or current (whichever is stronger) to prevent further movement inshore and let the tide float you free. In situations were the tide is running out quickly, ensure the hull is well supported. You may need use soft objects like a cushion or spare PFD to place between the hull and rocks to prevent
damage. Take time to inspect the hull while waiting for an incoming tide. If you are not hard aground, you may be able to push the boat off by yourself or with the help of your crew. Reduce weight and draft. Contents of your boat can be moved to shore or loaded into a
dingy. Fresh water tanks can be emptied. Sometimes you can use a kedge anchor to pull you
free. Using a dingy, set an anchor out in deep water and winch your boat towards it.
Boats can be towed out of trouble by another vessel. If you use this option, be sure that you tie the tow line on to a towing ring or cleat that has a backing plate in order to withstand the pull of another vessel. Stay clear of the lines to ensure no-one is injured should the towing line snap.
Sometimes if a grounded boat is on a sandy bottom, having another vessel run by and create waves can rock it free.