Running Aground

What Is Running Aground or Ship Grounding?

Running aground occurs when the water is too shallow to float a vessel. This can be done intentionally when maintenance is required or to land cargo. It most often occurs due to a lack of understanding about water depths, operator error, or a change in the floor of the body of water.

How to Avoid Running Aground

Running aground can be common, but there are some easy tips to avoid it.

  • Avoid rocks, sandbars, and other underwater hang-ups.
  • Consult nautical charts of the area where you plan to boat. Talking to other boaters and local marinas is also a helpful way to learn about underwater hazards.
  • Always have a lookout watching for shallow water markers such as buoys. They should also watch for shoals and sandbars.
  • Maintain a safe speed; going too fast can prevent you from having the time to react to a hazard that might otherwise be avoidable.
  • Use a depth finder, which will alert you when the water depth changes and is becoming shallower. This equipment is not a substitute for a proper lookout.

What to Do If Your Boat Runs Aground

If you run aground, it is important to stop and assess the situation. Always stop the engine and make sure all passengers are okay. If anyone is hurt, use your VHF to contact authorities and send out a distress signal to inform other boaters you need help.

If no one is injured and you’re not in danger, check the boat’s hull for damage. If you see any damage, cracks, or leaks, do not attempt to move the boat on your own. Flag down another boater or radio for assistance.

If there’s no structural damage, try getting your boat loose. Depending on what the boat is grounded on and how stuck it is, you may try:

  • Reversing the boat. If it is not grounded severely, you may be able to simply reverse the engine. Tilt the engine upward (if it’s an outboard or inboard/outboard), shift weight away from where the boat is grounded, and then slowly reverse it back into deeper water.
  • Pushing the boat. If reversing doesn’t work, turn your engine off. (If the engine is an outboard, lift it out of the water.) Shift weight away from where the boat is grounded, and use a spare paddle to push off. If on a sandbar with enough sand, climb out of the boat and try to push your boat off.
  • Use a kedge anchor, a small, lightweight anchor used to haul a grounded boat. These can be brought in using a small dinghy or walked out using a PFD or flotation device. Once the kedge anchor is at the boat, attach it to the anchor line, release the anchor, and use it to pull the boat off of the structure.