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8 tips for freeing a grounded boat

8 tips for freeing a grounded boat

As they say in the Navy, when the draft of your vessel exceeds the depth of the water, you’re aground. First, determine if any serious damage resulted from the grounding. Is the boat taking on water, or has steering or propulsion been damaged? There are circumstances when it might be safer to remain aground. However, if the boat is pounding due to weather conditions and the like, determine whether there is greater risk in remaining aground. And make sure your towing coverage is adequate and current.

Here’s what I recommend you do to free a grounded boat.

1. If aground in tidal waters, did you go aground on a rising or falling tide? Assuming there is no risk involved in being afloat again, a rising tide, nature cooperating, should make the Navy’s statement moot.

2. Determine what you grounded on: sand, mud, shingle or rocks. You should know the shape of your boat’s hull and the location of its point of greatest draft. That’s probably, though not necessarily, the part that is on the bottom.

3. If you’re grounded on sand do not follow your first instinct, which likely is to go full astern. You don’t want to clog the cooling water intake with sand, nor do you want to wash more sand around the portion of the hull already in the bottom.

4. Unless your boat has twin screws, astern propulsion with a straight shaft may tend to swing the stern to port, exposing the hull to even greater contact with a soft bottom.Some gentle forward propulsion might suction some of the bottom holding you.

5. Set a kedge anchor astern to keep the wind, sea or current from driving the boat farther aground or swinging it broadside to where you are aground. Every boat should have a kedge anchor with which to perform this. If not, your only anchor has to be used and, depending on its size and weight, this may be an interesting exercise. To set the kedge, secure the bitter end to one of your stern cleats and put the anchor and rode into your dinghy. Fake the line (coil it in a loose figure-eight pattern) in the dinghy so that it pays out smoothly as the you move away from the stern. Don’t try to pull the line from the boat, even if you have an outboard (definitely not if you’re rowing). If you don’t have a dinghy, don a PFD and swim the anchor out by using another life jacket and/or type IV flotation to support it. If the conditions are too bad for swimming you’re left with throwing the anchor astern (sans chain).

6. Try to kedge the boat off by pulling on the set anchor’s rode. A rising tide and the buoyancy of wave crests should help as you pull the boat straight back. Judicious use of reverse on the crests will help, as will rolling the boat from side to side to momentarily reduce its draft as you haul. (If you have a straight-shaft, single-screw boat, remember that the stern will want to swing.)

7. If you’re in a sailboat without a winged keel and rolling from side to side doesn’t work, try heeling the boat by steadying the boom outboard with someone hanging on to it. Or secure the boom topping lift, secure the dinghy with the mainsheet tackle, and put water into the dinghy to induce heeling and thereby reduce draft. If you’re in a sailboat with a winged keel, heeling the boat will not reduce your draft but will, in fact, increase it, making your situation worse.

8. Without winches or a windlass to help in hauling you off, try setting up a handy-billy (a loose block-and-tackle with a hook or tail on each end and usually made up of one single and one double block) to increase your pulling power. Even powerboats should have some tackle aboard.