Knowing what to do if a boat runs aground is a crucial piece of information to have as a boat owner. Whether it’s your boat, or the boat of a friend, knowing what to do can help minimize damages, and help get you back to having fun quickly.
Remain calm if a boat runs aground. Make sure there are no leaks and no one is injured. After that, lift the motor to avoid damage and try to shift weight away from the grounded point. Carefully push away with a boathook or paddle. Signal or call for help if the boat remains stuck.
Following these steps will help keep you and your passengers safe. For more details on responding to a grounded boat, keep reading below!
First Steps When Your Boat Runs Aground
When your boat runs aground, there are a few basics that you should follow to make sure everyone stays safe. Remember, grounding a boat isn’t uncommon! It’s actually one of the four most common types of accidents, and it can happen to the most experienced boaters.
Remain Calm And Make Sure Nobody Is Hurt
Hopefully, this step will be easy. This is the first-aid and emergency response part of running your boat aground.
Take a deep breath and try to relax. Are you hurt? Is anyone else on the boat hurt? Check for bleeding, whiplash, concussions, bruises, and if anyone fell off the boat. Perform emergency aid or ask another passenger to help.
This step is a great time to have everyone put on lifejackets if you’re not already wearing them. This makes it possible to evacuate the boat in case of further emergency and to make sure everyone is safe if the boat jolts while you’re ungrounding it.
We have an article explaining best place to store life jacket: Best Place To Put PFDs While You Are Out On Your Boat?
Remember that you can’t help anyone if you’re panicking. Get your head better settled, then move on to the next step. If someone is injured or you’re panicking, there’s no shame in calling for help! Just try to calm down while you wait.
Check For Water And Gas Leaks
After making sure nobody is bleeding, your next step should be to make sure the engine isn’t bleeding. Do you smell gasoline anywhere? Is anything dangerous leaking?
Check out your boat at the same time. Have passengers help you to make sure nothing is taking water and that there are no cracks on the outside of the boat.
If the boat isn’t leaking and there isn’t major damage, you should probably be able to free the boat yourself. Do so carefully, watching for hidden damage, but you can have a little more confidence. This happens to everyone at some point!
If there is damage, call for help. Don’t risk causing more damage or endangering your passengers. Make sure everyone has flotation devices and stay on the boat unless there’s a serious danger.
Lift The Motor So It Doesn’t Get Damaged
Even if the motor isn’t in danger of grinding on rocks or coral, it can still suck up silt and grime from shallow water. If reversing the boat doesn’t free you immediately, raise the motor and shut it off to prevent it from getting damaged.
Shift Weight Away From Whatever Is Touching The Ground
This advice is specifically for smaller boats.
Once you’re confident that getting off the ground won’t make your boat sink, you can take the weight off the ground by shifting weight away from whatever is touching the bottom. If the nose is stuck, make the heavy passengers move towards the back and see if you can push off. You could even have a few people go for a short swim if they have flotation devices.
If you’re in a larger boat, you can see if lightening the load helps instead.
Carefully Push Away From Whatever You’re Grounded On
Once you’ve shifted some weight and you’re sure you’re not punctured, try gently pushing away from whatever you’re grounded on. You can have some people get out and push, too, depending on where you’re grounded, but do not try that unless you’re sure it’s safe and everyone has life jackets.
Gently pushing off of whatever you’re stuck on is usually safer than using the engine in reverse. After all, you can’t clog up an oar with silt or jellyfish.
If You’re Stuck Or Leaking, Call For Help ASAP
There is no shame in admitting you’re stuck and calling for help. If you even just have a bad gut feeling, you can call or signal for some help getting your boat free from whatever you’re stuck on.
If your boat is leaking oil, gas, or water, or if a passenger is injured, call for help. Don’t hesitate.
What Do I Do If The Boat Is Leaking?
If the boat is leaking, have everyone put on personal flotation devices immediately. Life jackets save lives, and they are not overrated. Do not allow any of your passengers to get overconfident in this situation.
Next, call or signal for help. Anyone going out further than a popular lake should know how to contact the coast guard or fish and game for help or have the ability to call emergency services. If you’re going somewhere without those services, have someone at home or on shore who can call emergency services if you don’t contact them by a designated time.
If the boat can injure passengers while sinking, or if it’s at risk of capsizing, evacuate into a smaller boat or into the water if absolutely necessary. Try to avoid this unless absolutely necessary.
Should I Try To Shove Off Right Away?
You should not try to shove off right away! Always check passengers for injuries and the boat for leaks before trying to shove off. It won’t hurt to wait an extra two minutes before trying to push off, but it will hurt to try and move a boat that’s punctured on a rock.
Don’t shove off until you’re reasonably confident in the safety of yourself and your passengers if you try.
Is Any Advice Different For Large Or Small Boats?
While large boats will need to follow slightly different procedures from small boats, the majority of the advice will be the same for anything that is owned by the average person. Be sure to do research in advance on your particular size and style of boat, as well as the area you’ll be boating in, as there may be different aids available to assist you should you run into trouble.
For example, a local lake isn’t likely to have a patrol that can help you out, while popular tourist destinations are more likely to have something like a coast guard, or other specialized group with gear suited to helping the occasional grounded boat. However, as long as you’re careful and prepared, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about!
Project “Folks We Hit Ground” Boating
Check out our article on: How Shallow Can My Boat Go: (Guide)