A shoal is not the best place to be on.
It was a perfect Thanksgiving weekend. After a rather blustery week, the weekend was to be sunny and seasonably warm with cool nights that encouraged socializing and a good sleep. In the Thousand Islands where I boat, a weekend such as this brings out many boats for that last cruise, or that last weekend on an island where campfires and outdoor feasts cap off the summer.
I was docked with several others on the south side of Constance Island just below the Canadian span of the Thousand Islands Bridge. It wasn’t long into the weekend before we saw and then heard a boat pile up on the shoal directly south of the dock. From our distance you could watch the action before you could hear the sound and likewise our warning voices, if heard at all above the bridge traffic, arrived too late.
As the weekend progressed several other skippers made the same mistake – running up on the shoal. The fall had been wet and most people don’t get to cruise much from Labor Day to Thanksgiving. Many didn’t realize that the water level had dropped substantially and where they could cruise easily up until early September, was now too shallow as the shoal reached closer to the surface. The shoal is clearly marked on the charts and carries a shoal marker, but it is extensive and sloping.
Most skippers panicked after they hit, as you could quickly hear the boat being thrown into reverse in an effort to back off the shoal. Others took a moment to assess where they were and how best to get off the shoal. Which leads to the question – what should you do when you run aground?
Like most skippers that weekend, people’s first panicked reaction when they hear their boat run aground is to quickly throw the boat into reverse and try to back away. This in fact is the last action you should take. First, you could damage your shaft or outdrive and propeller even more than they may already be damaged. Second, depending on the bottom, you could suck sand, weeds or debris into your cooling system leading to further problems.
The best course of action is to be prepared and have a plan already in mind. By law, you must have the latest marine charts on board unless you can prove local knowledge, so groundings shouldn’t happen. But if it does occur, a chart will give you lots of detail to help you plan your move off the shoal.
Steps For After The Impact:
When your boat runs aground you must do a number of things quickly. Immediately shift to neutral. This will prevent any further damage to the drive and keep you from going further onto the obstruction.
At the same time make sure everyone on board is alright. Move around in the boat as little as possible, but make sure that everyone has their lifejacket on and fastened.
Once everyone is safe, determine if the boat is in danger. A quick glance at the chart should tell you what you are on and give you an idea what to look for in your search.
Check to see if the hull is damaged or leaking below the waterline. If something has holed the boat and is sticking through the hull, have someone bail while you quickly plan how you can patch the hole. Do not move the boat until you are sure you can patch the hole. Remember, the obstruction may be preventing the boat from sinking.
A patch can be made from almost anything, from a cushion jammed in place over the hole from the outside and strapped onto the boat with lines, to a potato jammed into a smaller hole. Your patch may not completely stop the water, but if you can slow it to a pace that your bilge pump and / or a person bailing can keep up with, you could make it to safety.
If the vessel has suffered serious damage and is in danger of sinking, and / or, you don’t think you can patch it, look around to see if there is another vessel that can help and begin to call for assistance.
Launch your dingy or other floatation devices and determine if it is best to stay on or near the obstruction that could possibly keep people out of the water. Next, determine how to best get people to safety.
On the other hand, if the most damage has been to your pride, you can begin planning the best way to get the boat free.
This can sometimes be as simple as moving weight to one part of the boat to allow the portion that is aground to rise in the water.
It could be that you will have to lighten the load in the boat altogether and perhaps have one or two people try to gently push or rock the boat off the obstruction. Be sure if you are using the engine to help that no one is near the propeller or under the boat.
Perhaps you can use your anchor to pull you off. Row or motor it a distance away with your dinghy, set it, and then pull against it to move the boat off the obstruction. Or perhaps you will have to wait for a tow from another boat to set you free. Each circumstance will be different and a careful assessment should keep you safe.
Once the boat is free, if you are able to make your way under your own power have your marina haul the boat for a closer inspection as soon as possible, and repair any damage before you head out on the water again.