Sailors fall into two categories – those that have run aground and those that will run aground.
I have run aground countless times – seven transits of the US ICW and gunkholing in the skinny waters of the Bahamas and Chesapeake Bay will do that to you – and it’s usually a pretty harmless event. More often than not, running aground hurts you’re pride more than the boat.
Here are some running aground basics:
1. Recognize that you are aground as soon as possible and stop forward motion. A slight feeling of sluggishness or the entire crew lying in a heap at the front end of the cockpit are clues that you have run aground.
2. If motoring, go into reverse immediately. If sailing, get the sails down, check for lines in the water and start the engine, then go into reverse. Be aware that your rudder is vulnerable when backing up in shallow water. If you’re towing the dinghy this is where the painter gets wrapped around the propeller.
3. If reversing fails, limit the damage by getting an anchor out to windward. If possible orient the boat to provide the most protection from wind or waves.
4. Reduce draught (draft if you’re from across the pond) by heeling the boat. A very effective method is by pulling on a masthead halyard. Another method is putting weight onto the end of the swung-out boom – a crewmember or a flooded dinghy being the main candidates. Motor or tow the boat off into deeper water. If you have twin keels or a winged keel this method is unlikely to work because your draught will increase as you heel – you’ll need to get weight onto the fore deck to try to reduce draught.
5. Seek assistance from the professionals, or hail a passing Good Samaritan. It’s time to swallow your pride. If you contemplate an ICW journey a Tow Boat US insurance policy is fantastic value.
6. Running your engine in shallow water and when aground churns up the bottom: Check your raw water intake strainer – if it’s filled with sand and mud check your raw water pump impellor for damage.
With a boat that can safely take the ground and some experience of getting afloat again you’ll be able to explore with impunity the very fringes of the watery world.