What to Do If Your Boat Runs Aground

If you operate boats long enough, you’re likely to run one aground. When that happens, you need to be prepared and have a plan to get moving again, or else get stuck and possibly lose your boat forever.

Boat runs aground what to do

Running a boat aground feels frustrating and embarrassing, but it happens even to the most experienced skippers. Perhaps the most important thing to do when it happens is not to panic. Here are some tips on what to do if your boat runs aground. 

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How Do You Know if You’ve Run Your Boat Aground?

Pay attention to what you hear if you think your boat has run aground. If you’ve hit something soft, you might hear the motor slow down as the prop digs into the mud. 

Boat runs aground propeller

You might be able to trim the motor up fast enough to get out of the situation. On the other hand, if you hit a rock or a floating object like a log, you’ll hear and feel a sharper impact that might throw you and your passengers forward in the boat. In this situation, the key is to get the motor up and into neutral, after attending to any injured passengers.

Does Your Boat Have Any Damage?

Once you have the motor trimmed up and you’ve checked out your passengers, the next thing to do is check on the boat, starting with propeller

Boat runs aground damaged propeller

You can trim the props up on sterndrive or outdrive boats, so there might not be any damage. However, inboards are especially vulnerable to damage when running aground, and a mud bottom can damage the prop or shaft. In this case, you may need to swim under the boat to determine if there’s any damage, and call for help if there is.

How to Get Away When Your Boat Runs Aground

Depending on the time of day, you have a 50/50 chance of getting helped or stuck in tidal waters. In other words, if the tide is rising, it might be enough to free your boat. However, if the tide is going out, your situation could be getting worse. 

Boat runs aground low tide

If you’re not in tidal waters, trim the drive as high as you can with the prop still in the water, and maybe rock the boat a little. Whether you should go forward or in reverse largely depends on how your boat is stuck, but take the shortest, easiest route to deeper water.

If that doesn’t work and you’re carrying passengers, redistribute them to the bow or stern to get the opposite end of the boat up. Or if you’re stuck in shallow water, try getting passengers off the boat to get it a little higher in the water. For larger boats, launch your dinghy with some heavy items loaded in it to take some weight off the boat. 

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If you’re on a short reef, try kedging, which is walking the anchor out a few yards and setting it, then having one person pull on the anchor while everyone else pushes from the other side. If that doesn’t work, calling for help might be the last resort.

What to Do After Your Boat Runs Aground

If you can get going again, pay attention for vibrations, which could mean you have a damaged prop that needs to be repaired or replaced

Boat runs aground check propeller

When you get home, make a note of what happened. Sometimes, the damage might not show itself for a while. In that case, you might need to report the details to an insurance company, along with witnesses on your boat who can corroborate what happened.



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