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Running Aground: What to Do After & How to Avoid It

May 31, 2022

Running aground is one of the most common types of boating accidents. While it can be difficult to avoid entirely, given the changeable nature of the underwater environment, there are things you can do to minimize your risk of running aground and steps you can take to try to free your boat if it does happen.

What does running aground mean?

Running aground occurs when the water is no longer deep enough for a vessel to float. Shoals and other underwater hazards can result in the water depth changing suddenly. If a boat hits the bottom and becomes stuck, it’s known as being grounded or running aground.

What is the first step to take after running aground?

In the event that you run aground, the first step you should always take is to stop and assess the situation. The next steps you take will depend entirely on the condition of those on board, the amount of damage the vessel has sustained and how far it has run aground.

Check for injuries

First, turn off the motor and check for injuries. If anyone is seriously injured, use your VHF radio to contact the authorities and send out a distress signal to indicate to other vessels that you are in need of assistance.

Check for damage

If no one is seriously injured or in immediate danger, the next step is to check the boat for damage. Has the hull been breached? Are you taking on water? Stay alert for any smell of gasoline that could indicate a dangerous leak.

Try to free the boat

If there’s no structural damage, you can try to free your boat. There are a few different methods you can attempt:

  • Reverse off: If your craft isn’t grounded too severely, you may be able to reverse off. Start by shifting some weight towards the part of the boat that’s still afloat. Then tilt the motor up slightly if it’s an outboard, put it in reverse, and see if you can navigate into deeper water.
  • Push off: If reversing off doesn’t work, turn off the motor. If it’s an outboard, remove it from the water. Shift some of the weight towards the part of the boat that’s still afloat. Then try to push off, either using a spare paddle or standing on the sandbar if it’s large enough and pushing your boat manually.
  • Kedge off: A kedge anchor is a small, lightweight anchor that’s used to haul a grounded boat free. If you have a dinghy on board, you can use it to take the kedge anchor out to deeper water. Otherwise, you can try to walk or swim it out. In that case, use multiple flotation devices to keep the anchor afloat on your way out to deeper water and make sure to wear a personal flotation device and tether yourself to your boat so that you can get back even if you get tired. Once the anchor is set and you’re back on your boat, haul on the anchor line to try to pull your vessel into deeper water.

How to avoid running aground

No prevention strategy is perfect. That’s why it’s best to use multiple methods to help you avoid running aground.

Keep a lookout

The first and most important prevention strategy is situational awareness. When you’re boating, you should always keep a proper lookout for any indications of underwater hazards. Don’t assume that every hazard will be clearly marked with a marine buoy—keep an eye out for any changes in wave patterns or the colour of the water that might indicate a shallow patch or shoal. You can also take a look at the route other vessels take through a waterway to find safe passage.

Consult nautical charts

If you’re boating in unfamiliar waters, charts are an indispensable tool to have, as they indicate the locations of things like channels, shoals and underwater obstructions. It’s best to take a good look at the charts for the area before you get underway, and keep them handy while you’re on the water so that you can consult them as necessary. There are even marine navigation apps available that provide access to the most up-to-date charts!

Maintain a safe speed

In order to avoid any hazards you do spot, you need to maintain a safe speed and be familiar with your boat’s stopping distance and maneuverability. You should be aware of how long it takes your boat to come to a standstill at various speeds and how sharply you can maneuver away from an obstacle without capsizing.

If you are in a situation where you are concerned about the possibility of running aground, slow down. You’ll shorten your stopping distance and reduce the likelihood of damaging your boat if it ends up grounded.

Boat safely with Drive a Boat Canada

Safety is a vital aspect of boating. From the safety equipment required on board a boat to how to react in an emergency situation, there’s a lot that boaters need to know in order to keep themselves and their passengers safe on the water.

Drive a Boat Canada offers a safety course for boaters to learn everything they need to know before taking the online boating exam to obtain their Pleasure Craft Operator Card. The card is a license required by law for those wishing to boat recreationally in Canada. Register today to begin your boating adventure!