Running aground will ruin a fun day on the water. While being stuck on a sand or rock ledge is in itself not fun,
you also run the risk of damaging your hull or injuring crew members from the impact. Other possibilities are
damaging your engine from sand sucked into your water pump, paying costly tow charges or incurring a salvage
claim against your boat. But, following five simple tips may help you avoid a situation wherein your next VHF
transmission is “Help! I’m grounded and I can’t get off!”
The first and most important tip is to be certain that you have a recent chart of local waters. The chart will show
water depths in different colors for deep and shallow areas as well as indicate the actual depths. Plan your trip, in
advance, by plotting a course through safe water and trace your course to assure you remain in deep water.
Secondly, be aware of the tidal conditions. Depending upon your location, high tide and low tide conditions may
change water depth by one or two feet or as much as 20 feet. Tidal charts are printed in local boating magazines
and you can pick one up to carry aboard at most marine and boat stores.
Third, equip your boat with a depth indicator that has a warning alarm. This neat feature allows you to set a
minimum depth for the alarm to sound warning you of potential danger. Choose a setting that will warn you long
before you reach your boat’s maximum draft.
Fourth, international COLREGS (Collision Regulations) require you to maintain a watch at all times. It is especially
important to appoint a crew member to watch for shallow water. There is an old adage that goes, “When the water
is green it is nice and clean, when the water is blue you can cruise on through, but when the water is brown you
will run aground!”
The last tip is to ask for local knowledge. It is worth your while to drift around a potentially dangerous area and
wait for local boaters that travel the area daily to show up. But do not blindly fall in behind them. Some of them
may draw a foot or less, permitting them to pass through areas where you will run aground. Instead, hail the
boaters on your VHS and tell them that you are seeking local information. Most boaters will gladly advise you on
the conditions, where the deep water is located and/or offer to lead you through.
Try following these few simple tips and make sure that running aground doesn’t ruin your fun. To learn more
about informed boating, take a course with the United States Power Squadrons®. For local offerings, look up a
local squadron or go to The members of USPS always remind us, “Boating is fun… We’ll show you