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What is the Best Way to Avoid Running Aground – Every Boater Should Know!

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

what is the best way to avoid running aground

What is the best way to avoid running aground? This is the question most boaters ask at the end of their sailing trip. It’s when your craft hits the bottom or runs aground. In the real sense, this situation is more of a nuisance than a danger.

When your boat runs aground, you should know what you need to do. You may add a boat sounder on your boat to give notification when you’re on shallow water. Aside from this technique, there are several things that you can do to ensure safety.

This article will show the things that you have to do to prevent running aground.

What Does Running Aground Mean

Run aground meaning is the circumstance in which your boat is on the water that is not deep enough for floating. Nonetheless, it’s sometimes intentionally done for landing cargo and performing maintenance.

Unfortunately, it occurs most of the time because of misleading information regarding water depth, change of the waterway’s bottom, and operator error.

What is the Best Way to Avoid Running Aground

  • Level of visibility above the water and through it
  • Location of the boats in the closest vicinity
  • Channel markers and locations of channels
  • Location of nearby shoals and any obstruction on your route to your chosen destination
  • The stopping distance of your boat and quick-maneuvering abilities

Actions To Take When Your Boat Runs Aground


When your boat runs aground, make sure that everyone on board is wearing a life jacket. You’ll need to check if no one has been injured because of this movement. The hull should also be free from any damage.

Next, turn off the engines to stop the cooling system from ingesting small particles like sand which can only create damage. To not harm the lower foot and propeller, lift outdrives on inboard or outboard-powered boats.

If you have a watertight hull, you need to refloat your vessel by shifting its weight. This action leads to deeper water and at the same time, isolating the movable gear and passengers away from the impact point.

Time will assist you when running aground in the presence of a rising tide. However, it would help if you were quick when the falling tide comes. You don’t want to be stranded for several hours.

It’s much easier to free a small craft on shallow water than its large counterpart. You have to reduce the draft on the transom by tilting up the outboard motor or the stern drive.

Never activate your engine or else, you’ll be pumping sand and mud in. In the case of large powerboats, you have to shift weight in the stern to make them afloat.

Some opt for pushing them into deeper areas. It’s fine to do it as long as you can manage to get on board. Wave actions can give buoyancy to a large craft. It can be attained by rocking it side to side.

The said technique is also applicable to small sailboats with their centerboards raised. When doing these things, you have to wear life jackets and attach safety lines to your body.

Brilliant Ways To Avoid Running Aground

Some factors can help you avoid running aground. More than that, you can execute them along with these brilliant ways:

1. Updated charts

A chart or a chart plotter is indispensable in this matter. However, you don’t always need to do what it says. Your boat can still be grounded without indicating the chart as sand bar shifts and channels fill in. This chart is a must if you’re on unfamiliar water.

Take note of the fact that bottom contours are prone to changes. Particularly, it happens on sandy or muddy bottoms after a strong storm. In this aspect, you have to be keen on updating the charts or regularly keeping tabs on the digital charts of the chart plotter.

2. Having a marine navigation app

You should also have a marine navigation app while updating the charts. The display of crowd-sourced data layers will be available. So, you can discover inaccuracies on the chart from what is shared by other boaters.

3. Minding the tides

Naturally, you’ll mind the tides if you cruise over a tidal area. The chart will tell you that you’re crossing over MLW or mean low water. Furthermore, it means the average depth of water at low tide in a certain area.

You have to be aware of the average water depth since tides shift weekly or monthly. Tidal fluctuations also happen because of strong winds and weather patterns. These factors tell you that you can’t just follow the charter all the time.

The chart can’t guarantee that you can’t run aground. It’s only one of the several measures on how to have a high chance of avoiding running aground.

When Running Aground Can’t Be Avoided…


There are chances that your boat runs aground despite all the measures you’ve taken. You’ll know when your boat stops all of a sudden. The first thing that you have to do is to evaluate the situation. You must stop the engine and see if some passengers got hurt.

If someone gets hurt, you can use the VHF radio to release a distress signal and ask for help from fellow boaters or the authorities. Skip this step if no one is injured. Take time to check the hull instead.

When there are leaks, cracks, and even serious structural damages, you need to seek help from another boater through the radio. But when things are favorable to you, you only need to loosen your boat.

Here are some methods that can help you take your boat in the right stance.

1. Reversing off

If the grounding of the vessel is not too serious, you can simply reverse it. After placing your engine in reverse, you need to tilt the engine a bit upwards. Then, shift the weight away from the area where your boat is grounded.

The last thing that you have to do is reversing your boat into the clear water.

2. Pushing off

When reversing didn’t work out, turn off the engine and try this method. If ever there’s an outboard motor, you have to get it out of the water. You’ll have to put the weight on the side where the boat is not grounded.

When you’ve managed to remove the weight on the grounded part, push the bottom by utilizing an oar or some paddles. If your boat is stuck on a sandbar, you can do this step by standing in the area.

Never forget to turn off the engine in executing this method. Thus, it will be fine to lift the stern or bow and push the vessel into deeper water.

3. With the help of kedge anchor

This lightweight anchor is specifically made for hauling boats that have been grounded. There’s a need to take it from the shore and load it on a dinghy in most cases. You also have the choice to just walk it out of its location while wearing PFD.

Attach the anchor on your boat with an anchor line. Once you’ve securely placed it at the bottom, you can pull your boat to be released from being stuck. You can get a good anchor from Extreme Max and SeaSense.

Stopping The Boat from Running Aground

The key to stopping your boat from running aground is making your boat turn away or stop. You should be able to detect that there’s a probability that your boat will be grounded. Familiarize yourself with your boat and keep these things in mind:

  • Know the necessary distance for making a stop at different levels of speed. Also, be particular with how quickly you can move even though the boat runs aground at high speed.
  • If you think that there’s a possibility of running aground, the best thing you have to do is slow down. Slowing down will likely narrow the stopping distance and lower the chance of damaging the boat and its propulsion system if ever you hit the bottom.

Boaters can run aground sooner or later. It doesn’t mean that you need to refrain from exploring new places. You don’t have to avoid it as you can study the area, check the chart plotter most of the time, and always have a sharp lookout.

How To Maintain A Sharp Lookout

  • Be observant of the water’s color changes. At first, clear water can be seen. Then, as you move to shallow waterbeds and shoals, you’ll see the difference.
  • If it’s impossible to detect the color changes on waterways with minimal visibility, you may turn to examine wave patterns.
  • Waves can change daily based on weather conditions. Most areas will let you study or identify the shoal for a better lookout.
  • You may also follow and observe other boats where they go without running aground. But, boats are different from each other.

For example, you’re on a small bowrider that doesn’t have the same abilities as the large cruising sailboat. Thus, you don’t have to follow its path as small vessels are not as capable as the larger ones.


This article has disclosed the proper response to ‘What is the best way to avoid running aground?’. You need a sharp lookout, a chart, and a radio in case you need help from authorities or other boaters.

When crossing the waters, you have to study the areas first aside from enjoying the scenery. It will make you adept at preventing your boat from running aground.

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