Assisting boats run aground in mud? - SailNet Community

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Go Back   SailNet Community > General Interest Forums > Seamanship & Navigation
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Seamanship & Navigation Forum devoted to seamanship and navigation topics, including paper and electronic charting tools.


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Old 04-30-2012
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Assisting boats run aground in mud?

In the south SF Bay where I day-sail, it's pretty common to see sailboats run aground. Most of the Bay isn't particularly deep, filled in with thick mud, supposedly deposited by historical hydraulic mining. Mostly, a sailor has somehow deviated from the marked (with buoys and on the chart) area where it's deep enough to sail. The most comical exhibit was one particular race, apparently from the local YC (which I am not a member) out the channel from marina to the Bay proper, where it seemed that at least a third of the fleet had ran aground. The most common area to see people aground is where the channel opens up to the Bay, where if you ignore the buoys, it looks like it's OK to sail out into the Bay, but it isn't. Many days this area can actually be quite choppy.

My question is: what are my obligations here, in terms of good seamanship, and legally?

On more than one occasion, a grounded sailor has waved or hailed in a way suggesting that they wanted help (but not frantic enough that I was concerned they were in a serious situation, and not using an official COLREGS signal). I'm somewhat ashamed to admit I've never helped anyone. (I myself went aground once, when carelessly missing a buoy, and a guy fishing nearby in a small aluminum skiff helpfully pulled me off.)

My boat is 27', 4 or 5 tons, and 4ft draft, and has only a 9.9 HP outboard for auxiliary power. I'm not a particularly experienced sailor, and usually my crew is only friends who are mostly passengers. If there's any amount of chop, my size boat tends to have a fairly rough ride. Under some combination of these circumstances, I'm usually not particularly well-equipped to render assistance. Not knowing how long they've been grounded, my biggest anxiety is usually that I don't know if I can get close enough to heave a line without running aground myself--or in the confusion of pulling him off, accidentally drift onto the shoal.

Another factor is that assisting someone run aground is inconvenient, and could take a while, if they're aground fairly hard. There could even be negative legal repercussions if something went wrong, such as collision damage or injury. In all cases, people seem to be aground because they're disregarded basic navigational concerns, or they were pushing the limits in tacking. If there's no obvious safety concern, is there any real justification for me to help them?

But on the other hand, I suspect that I could help most of these people, and I definitely would, if it looked like a serious situation, or they hailed with a Mayday or anything like that. It's also likely that without help, some of the boats will eventually have to call for a tow, or possibly risk sinking as the keel lays over.

The main rationalization for not helping is that the area is has a steady population of other boats, which (due to it being the SF Bay) are usually much better equipped to pull off someone grounded: inboard motor, larger boat, better crewed. And if they are really in trouble, the area is in cell range, and VHF range to the coast guard, and not far from a significant port.

Can someone help set me straight here? I'd appreciate any insightful advice or opinion.
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Old 04-30-2012
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Re: Assisting boats run aground in mud?

"Help" can mean a lot of things. Sometimes it can mean simply placing a phone call for one of these grounded people. I'll bet that plenty of them set out without a working VHF and a cell phone with only half a charge.

If someone is in genuine distress and signalling appropriately and you witness it, you are obligated to help, but not necessarily to place yourself at risk. Make a phone or radio call on their behalf, and let them know that you did so. Ask if they have any medical issues. Pass them a first aid kit, if capable of doing so, or inform the CG or local marine patrol if you are not.

For the most part though, it sounds more like you're just not interested in helping.

On one hand, I sympathize with your motivations. There are a lot of idiots on the water, and you're not SeaTow. You're not interested in burning out your little outboard engine, yanking someone out of the mud, or risking damage to your boat, and spending all saving people from themselves.

On the other hand, you yourself have accepted a tow from a skiff that may have had the same concerns. You might consider helping out occasionally, so that you can put a few points in "Vigor's Black Box". It may help you in the future.

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Old 04-30-2012
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Re: Assisting boats run aground in mud?

Life saving is mandatory. You might help boats to mud if you like to. The easiest way to tie a line to the head of the mast and pull the boat to her side. This does not require too much horse power. As the boat heels to one side, she can easily reverse by her own engine and saved.
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Old 04-30-2012
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Re: Assisting boats run aground in mud?

Having run aground on a few occasions myself (a hazard of having a deep keel in a relatively shallow area) I have found find that most often folks on power boats will not render assistance although, at least in theory, they are the best equipped to do so. (Some will not even slow down, ignoring the fact that their wakes will "bounce" us on the bottom!). Sailors may try, or be willing to try, but are themselves often constrained by the very shoals I have put myself on.

Most often, my saviors have been small commercial boats, sometimes crewed by a single person, who will swing around, come close aboard, offer a "pluck" if I have a handy line for a tow (I do--because of where we are), or offer to carry out my anchor so I can kedge myself off with a winch or windlass, and advise me where the channel has gotten itself (or on some of the rivers, that the channel marks have gone to inland rules once I passed a certain point).

In view of the foregoing, I generally try to offer assistance to someone if at all possible, sometimes even by standing off up-stream and floating a small messenger line down to the victim with a throwable cushion-pad so they can pass me a line. It usually doesn't take much effort and all are invariably very grateful for the effort, even if unsuccessful.

Now, on the other hand, if someone repeatedly puts himself up on the same shoal--and we do have one fellow that does so regularly as his slip is tide bound and he's too impatient to wait for high-tide most often--we simply wave as we pass by. Some folks have to learn the hard way.

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Old 04-30-2012
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Re: Assisting boats run aground in mud?

If someone has "waved or hailed" you are obligated to at least stop and offer to call for assistance.

You don't have to do anything that you feel might damage your vessel or possibly injure someone. That gives you lots of freedom to make your own decision.

When rendering assistance it's helpful to keep in mind that you are in control. You do not take orders from the vessel in distress. Even if someone is injured, the best thing to do may be to call the experts and stand by till they get there.

I refused to tow a powerboat full of drunks one night. They where taking turns laughing, screaming for help, lighting off flares and acting like idiots. All the while the current was sweeping them out to sea. I did, however, keep an eye on them and stay in contact with the C.G. until help arrived.
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Re: Assisting boats run aground in mud?

It's pretty difficult for a sailboat to help another sailboat that's already aground unless they've found a lump with deep water very close. The last thing anyone wants is TWO boats aground, both needing assistance.

But if the crew that's aground can toss a line attached to their halyard then trying to heel the boat off the mud is a reasonable, and not difficult, thing to try assuming reasonable conditions.
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Old 04-30-2012
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Re: Assisting boats run aground in mud?

Before hauling on a masthead with the halyard, the crew should get all the heavy-weights on one side, hang onto the shrouds and lean outboard. Worked for me.

Another option is row the spare anchor our abeam with the tender. After it is set, attach the main halyard to the rode and harden the halyard. That is the theory - have not tried it.
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Old 04-30-2012
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Re: Assisting boats run aground in mud?

You might also consider the tide. If it is rising, let them get themselves off, if it is falling, your quick action could save them a lot of trouble or loss of the boat.
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Old 04-30-2012
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Re: Assisting boats run aground in mud?

Be careful if it is an Ericson 27, they have a hollow deep bilge in the back of the keel, going backwards can hole it on something solid . . .!
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Old 04-30-2012
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Re: Assisting boats run aground in mud?

"The main rationalization for not helping is that "
I seem to recall "rationalizing" means creating an excuse for what we know is the wrong act. So it would appear that you are conflicted over this.
You are under no onbligation to put yourself or your vessel into what you think might be danger (of lawsuit or damage) in order to avoid an inconvenienced vessel. Nor a vessel under distress, although you are obligated to make some attempt to aid the vessel in true distress. If you feel that your only safe response would be to stand by to pick up survivors, and call/radio the situation in to the USCG, that's perfectly valid.
But I think what you feel the conflict about, is your conscience telling you it is time to bank some karma points, by rendering aid when you can safely do so. Hailing them getting some information, and responding might be all you can do. Throwing a line and investing an hour, depends on whether you need to get home to walk the dog, and whether they can survive until the tide comes in.
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