What does it mean to run aground?

If a boat runs aground, it touches the ground in a shallow part of a river, lake, or the sea, ultimately getting trapped.

What should you do first if your boat runs aground?

If your boat runs aground, the first action to take is to stop and assess the situation. Immediately stop the engine and check for any injuries. 

What further action should be taken if your boat runs aground?

  • Check the people onboard to make sure no one is injured.
  • Assess what damage that might have occurred.
  • Is the boat taking on water? If so, find the source of the leak.
  • Set a kedge anchor to keep yourself from being pushed further aground. 
  • Use a lead line or boat hook to check the water depth around you.
  • Check your chart for bottom characteristics.
  • Check the tide tables and determine the next high tide.

How can you prevent your boat from running aground?

  • Become familiar with the locations of shallow water and submerged objects before you go out. 
  • Learn to read a chart to determine your position and the water depth.
  • Check the visibility conditions
  • The location of channels and markers
  • The location of shoals and obstructions in the area you plan to go boating
  • Keep a proper lookout for any indications of underwater hazards.

  • 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.

Respond to running aground

When you run aground in an inboard/outboard vessel, you should shift the weight away from the grounded area of the hull, lift the outdrive part-way then shift into reverse.

A kedge anchor can be your working anchor. If you have a dinghy, you can put the anchor in and row or motor off the stern and set it in deeper water. If you don't have a dinghy, you may be able to walk or swim it out. Use two or more PFDs or throwables to float the anchor on while you walk or swim it out. Make sure the anchor line pays out smoothly. Be sure that you wear a PFD and have a line tied to you and the boat in case you get too exhausted to swim back.

If you were moving slowly when you grounded and hull damage looks to be minimal, you may be able to simply back off by shifting the weight farthest from the point of impact and using an oar or boat hook to push off. As you start to move, be sure to check once again to make sure you are not taking on water from a hole caused by the grounding.

If backing off is not a viable option or if it doesn't work, you could consider using a kedge anchor to kedge off. You do this by pulling or winching in on the anchor line attached to the kedge anchor you set as outlined above.

Should your hull be severely damaged, stay put and call or signal for help from another vessel or commercial marine towing company. You are not going to sink if you can step off the boat onto terra firma.

Arrange a tow

Your final option, short of waiting for the tide to come in, is arranging a tow. You should consider carefully whether to accept a tow from another boater who is inexperienced. Towing can be hazardous and can cause bodily harm and damage to one or both boats unless someone in the party is aware of the precautions that must be taken. If this is the case, call a commercial towing company. Do not call the U.S. Coast Guard unless you are in imminent danger.

PWCs going aground create different problems. In most cases, the operator can simply get off and push or pull the PWC into deep water, get onboard, connect the kill switch lanyard, and get back underway. You should not try using the engine to get off because of the possibility of introducing sand, mud or grass into the jet drive intake.

Be sure to immediately inspect the PWC hull both inside and out for cracks and leaks when you initially go aground. In addition, make sure that nothing has jarred loose and do the "sniff" test to be sure no gasoline leaks have developed.