Tips to Avoid Running Your Boat Aground
How to avoid running aground is a very common concern for boaters, because simply put, it can happen to anyone, no matter how experienced of a boat captain they are.
Running aground is exactly what it sounds like, and it happens when a boat’s hull is driven into waters too shallow to keep the vessel afloat. Common causes of running aground include operator error, misinformation about how deep the water is, and unexpected topographical changes in a water bottom’s surface. Getting stuck on rocks, sandbars and other bottom surfaces can mostly be avoided with the right amount of preparation. Here are some tips to avoid running your boat aground.
Use Nautical Charts and Apps
Nautical chart plotters and apps provide data for navigating waterways, including finding things like channel markers and underwater obstructions.
Always use a chart plotter and a navigational app before and during boating trips, especially when venturing into unfamiliar waters. Check chart plotters for shallow waters, sandbars, reefs, and other hazards along your route. Make sure that any charts or apps you use are up to date because bottom surfaces can shift, especially muddy and sandy bottoms after heavy storms. Research past boating accidents in that area, and consult with local marina staff and other boaters for advice on where not to go.
Get a Depth Finder
A depth finder is also exactly what it sounds like, and the device alerts you when you’re headed toward an area your boat could run aground in. Keep in mind that a depth finder isn’t a substitute for navigational chart plotters and apps, nor for keeping a proper lookout to prevent your boat from running aground.
Maintain a Safe Speed
Common sense here, but always drive at a safe speed to allow you to take evasive action if you come across an underwater obstacle that can run your boat aground.
Slower speeds give you more stopping distance, and reduce the chance of damaging your boat’s hull and propellers if you hit bottom. Running aground at high speeds can damage your boat beyond repair, and injure you and your passengers. Even if you know you’re not in shallow waters, keep your speed at a level where damage will be minimal if you hit something unexpected down below.
Keep a Proper Lookout
Maintaining a proper lookout at all times while boating is also common sense. Be on the lookout for buoys and channel markers, as well as shoals and sandbars.
Shallow water obstacles can be hard to spot, so pay attention to color changes in the water. Sudden changes from dark to light colors are indicators that you’re approaching shallower waters. Monitor the water’s visibility, as well as channel markers and other boats in your vicinity.
Watch where other boats go (and don’t go) to get an idea of which directions are safe to travel. If you notice other boats avoiding specific areas, take it as a sign that those areas are probably unsafe. And hazard buoys are literally signs that tell you some areas are unsafe, so keep an eye out for those as well. Also, assign a passenger or two as additional lookouts, and let them know to watch out for color changes and wave patterns, which are more pronounced in shallow areas.
Mind the Tides
Always take tidal areas into account, and keep an eye out on chart plotters for the letters MLW, which stands for "mean low water." Remember too that tides can change from week to week, and that tidal patterns can be affected by inclement weather.
Know Your Boat
Aside from everything already mentioned, one other important way to prevent running your boat aground is to actually know your boat’s handling capabilities, especially its stopping power.
Know how much distance it takes your boat to come to a complete stop at varying speeds, as well as its and your own maneuvering capabilities. In other words, you need to have a firm grasp of your reaction time if you’re approaching underwater obstacles, and how quickly you and your boat can maneuver to avoid them.