Most people who run aground are moving slowly because they know the water is shallow and they're just trying to pick their way through a tight channel or into a cove. According to the U.S. Coast Guard statistics, however, running aground accounts for a number of fatalities, injuries, and millions in property damage every year.
To avoid running aground,
- check the navigational charts before your trip;
- use a GPS if you have one;
- appoint one of your passengers as a lookout;
- watch your depth meter, and turn on the depth meter alarm; and
- look for signs of shallow water, such as breaking waves or lighter water color if there are no waves.
If you do run aground, whether you hit the ground lightly or with great force, first tell everyone to put on their PFD. Turn off the engine, lift the outdrive (in an inboard/outboard boat), and check to be sure water is not coming through the hull. If you are in a rocky area, the rocks may be preventing water from coming through the hull, so check the hull for damage. If your hull is damaged, you may be able to stop or slow the leak, by jamming clothing or wooden plugs into the breach in the hull. If the vessel is clearly sinking then make a Mayday call to the Coast Guard. If the vessel is in trouble but not in immediate danger at this time, then make a Pan-Pan call to the Coast Guard. If the vessel remains operational and you can make it to a safe beaching location to prevent sinking, this option should be considered. Always alert the Coast Guard of your intentions and position.
If the hull looks good, check the position of your boat in the water, and try these options:
- If you are in an area influenced by tides and you know the tide is coming in, wait for the rising water to lift your boat off the ground.
- If the propeller is still in deep enough water, put the engine in reverse and back off. Be careful that you don't suck sand or silt into the water cooling system. Also be sure you don't see weeds that will get tangled in the propeller.
- If you have a small enough anchor, you can float one or two PFDs in the water and put the anchor on top of them. Float the anchor out to deeper water and set it well behind the boat. Once the anchor is set, pull on the rope from inside the boat to pull the boat into deeper water. This method of anchoring and pulling is called kedging. If you are on a sailboat, use one anchor connected to the main halyard, to tip the boat (and reduce the draft), and use the second anchor off the stern, to back the boat off.
- If another boat has stopped to help, toss them a line so they can back you into deeper water. Keep everyone away from the line so no one gets tangled in it. Also if the line should snap, you don't want anyone getting hit with the backlash.
- If you are still stuck, call a commercial towing operation for assistance.