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grounding may have already damaged
them. But if you let the boat settle even
more deeply into the bottom, you’ll damage them for sure.
Where’s deeper water? Don’t assume
it’s behind you, where you just came
from. In many areas, you can read water
depth by color. The higher you can get on
your boat to look down at the water, the
better you can tell; good polarized sunglasses may help. If you don’t know where
deep water is, quickly sound around
your boat with a weighted line marked
for depths. If that doesn’t help, use your
dinghy and its depth finder, or carry a
handheld depth sounder for this purpose.
Most of these tactics aren’t applicable if you’re aground on rock or reef.
If you are, quickly seek professional help.
Be sure that the pro is knowledgeable
and understands your situation. A forced
unskilled tow off the rocks or even from
a soft bottom can increase boat damage
and may cost you even more in penalties.
1. POWERING OFF IS QUICKEST You’ll
know if it’s going to work soon after you
begin. If you’ve come into the shoal grad-
ually and at an angle, and deeper water is
just to one side, you may be able to power
off by using full forward with rudder hard
toward the deeper water. This will work
if the force of your engine can turn the
bow to the side without moving forward
much; many boats move forward before
the bow turns off to the side, worsening
the situation. This is particularly true if
your rudder is hung so far aft of your prop
(often true with sailboats) that the boat
depends more on forward motion for
rudder leverage than prop wash.
If, when you hit, you felt a lift and
then a settling of your boat, you may
have come over a ridge that may now
lie between your stern and deep water. If
there’s a ridge behind you, or if, as often
occurs, the boat got
turned by tide or
wind, reversing may
have you backing
into shallower water,
damaging your prop
and rudder. If your
prop is below your
keel, or if you think
it’s touching the
bottom, you need to
try something else.
2. WIGGLE Two
engines may give
you a better chance.
If backing off, you
can alternate power
surges from one to
the other, pulling
your boat from side
A flat, still
you’re looking at
shallow water. A
is a possible
deeper water. An
could mean that
you’re looking at
a sharp drop-off, or a bottom
Weigh the risks
Some tactics involve considerable risk.
The safety of you and your crew, your
skill and experience, and good seamanship are important considerations. If
these are an issue, or if weather is deteriorating or darkness is falling, call for
competent help. A good towing service
contract, such as TowBoatU.S., is invaluable. And if there’s risk to life, call the
U.S. Coast Guard, which isn’t in the business of pulling you off the bottom but
will do all it can to save lives and save
you and your crew from injuries.