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Safe at Sea: What to do when you run aground

By Staff | Jul 16, 2019


There is a common quote among experienced boaters in Southwest Florida – “It’s not a question of ‘Will you run aground? It’s a question of when you run aground!'”

In our very shallow waters, particularly throughout the bay, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll need the following advice – what to do when you run aground:

First, check your hull for damage. Before you (and your passengers) do this, be sure who anyone enters the water is wearing a P.F.D. Likewise, they should wear water shoes: rocks and stumps abound.

Unfortunately, hitting an object (on of these rocks or stump) even at a “moderate” speed, can damage the hull. Remember, if there is a hole in your hull, you are far better off aground than ever trying to reach port.

Of course, if you run aground during an incoming tide, time is on your side. Unfortunately, if it is a falling tide, you (and crew) must work quickly, or you may be aground for several hours.

Clearly, the shallower drafted hull is easier to free than a large, deep-draft boat.

After the hull has been examined:

Tilt an outboard motor(s) or stern drive(s) into an up position to reduce draft at the transom. Do not run your engine(s) as that will risk pumping sand or mud into them.

Sometimes, by shifting the weight to the stern, larger powerboats may move the boat afloat. Larger, stronger passengers may then be able to push the boat into deeper water. (Make sure there is an easy way get back onto the boat before trying this because a boat aground is far easier to deal with than an unaccompanied boat adrift!)

Also, the boat might be freed by rocking it back and forth. Again, use caution.

If you call the U.S. Coast Guard or a commercial towing company such as SeaTow or BoatUS, you’ll need to know your estimated position. Likewise, if you do not have towing insurance, you will want to know the estimated cost of their assistance before you hire them.

A second often-quoted saying by Southwest Florida boaters goes like this – “If a seasoned Florida boater tells you he/she’s never been aground, he’s lying!”

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more information on courses offered by the chapter, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 239-985-9472.