Grounding Tips for Sailors
A slight miscalculation can lead to sudden stops. Use these tips for a speedy recovery back to safe water.
As with any aspect of sailing, a little forethought can prevent a grounding. When sailing near a shallow windward shore, always keep one eye on the depth sounder. For smaller boats and those without instrumentation, look at the charts, and know where you are. If you’re heading back to the harbor under power, wait until you are docked to store the sails. Leave the halyards attached and be ready to hoist a sail if necessary. This will keep you in control and prevent drifting towards the shallows.
But if you sail long enough, groundings are bound to happen even to the best sailors. Knowing what to do in this situation can mean the difference between a short delay and a long stay outside your favorite anchorage.
Grounding on a Windward or Leeward Shore
If the inevitable happens, knowing what to do and doing it fast is important. In an ebb tide or on windward shoreline, fast action is essential. Let’s hope that it’s a soft grounding, and you’re moving slowly over a sand or mud bottom. If you tap lightly, turn towards deeper water immediately. If you’re sailing off the wind, your turn will be windward. The increased heel of the boat should lift the keel higher, taking you to deeper water. If a boat has stopped, turn the tiller or wheel so that the boat would turn towards deeper water. Then try using the engine to turn the boat – and motor to safety.
If you are on a windward shore, you may need to lower sails quickly so as not to be pulled into more shallow areas. But if you’re on a leeward shore, the wind and wave action may help push you out to deeper water.
Grounding in Light Wind & Seas
If the wind and seas are light, you can kedge off – Take the anchor out into deeper water using the dinghy or another boat. Try to use a heavy anchor and take it as far from your vessel as possible. Use the windlass or jibsheet winches to pull you off.
Towing & Other Methods
Sometimes a tow from a shallow-draft vessel will do. But never get a tow from astern. This can cause rudder damage. Tow from the bow, even if it means trying to turn the bow towards the deeper water first.
Other methods include crew members swinging on a halyard or the main boom to heel the boat over. Or, with smaller boats, simply going over the side and physically shoving the boat can work. But be careful, you may not know what you are stepping onto. The boat may get away from you or even hit you.
Thinking ahead is always your best option to help avoid running aground. Common sense is important especially if you are still learning sound sailing skills. Acting out these scenarios in your head before a grounding ever happens is your best defense.
Happy Sailing from Steve Colgate
Founder of Offshore Sailing School