Over Labor Day weekend this year, we had an unusually large number of soft groundings.  A couple of factors played into this “bubble”, mainly wind and wave action over the weekend.  All of these incidents could have been prevented fairly easily.

First, let’s cover what a “soft grounding” is, by way of example.  Lets say you have beached your boat on an island, and decide to take a walk.  You return an hour later to find the boat has been washed sideways against the beach.  It’s still floating some, and perhaps bumping on the bottom, but with the wind working against you, and boat wakes pushing the boat further ashore, you and your crew can’t quite push it off.  There is little or no damage to the boat, no leaks, you’re just stuck.  This is a classic example of a soft grounding.

In contrast, a hard grounding, is one where the boat is either out of the water completely, or stuck on a hump, rocks or an object such as a tree or piling.  The boat has typically suffered damage, and may be leaking.  A common example here on the lake is when a boater crosses between a vertically striped marker and the closest shoreline.  There is little or no water there, and when boaters go through these areas at cruising speed, momentum carries them far enough ahead that they often end up hard aground.  We have also seen inattentive boaters simply run their boats up onto a beach, momentum carrying them a good distance from the shoreline.  In these circumstances, it is not uncommon for an outdrive to be knocked completely off of the boat, letting water in, and we have seen the struts of inboard powered boats driven through the hull bottom as well.  Once water is entering the boat, you have crossed another line, into the world of salvage, but we’ll save that for another article.

In this article, we’re dealing Boats that end up “softly” on the beach one of three ways.  They are either beached on purpose, run aground by accident, or drift ashore after a breakdown.

When beaching your boat on purpose, say to enjoy a swim on the beach or an island picnic, there is some thought and preparation involved and a couple of approaches.  One is to approach the beach bow-in.  If your boat is a stern drive, or outboard driven model, as you get close to the beach, you can trim, or raise your motor up.  If the drop-off is steep enough, you may still have a little water behind the boat when the nose bumps the shoreline.  If not, you can kill your motor, raise the drive or outboard all of the way up, and let momentum carry you to the beach.  The idea here is to get enough of your bow into the sand, that the boat is relatively stable, but floating in the rear.  An anchor line from the bow to the beach will generally keep the boat in place.  If wake action is pushing the boat around too much, a stern anchor with a little scope may help hold the stern perpendicular to the beach, but be careful with this, as large wakes could come right over the stern, swamping the boat.  As with anything in boating, it takes some personal judgment to beach safely.

Another popular way to enjoy the beach is to anchor with your bow out, backing up until you’re close and then running a line to shore to keep the stern from swinging to far in either direction.  The advantage of this is that the bow is better able to handle the wake action coming ashore, and the forward anchor will keep the bow into those waves, preventing the boat from being washed in.  The disadvantage is that your drive or outboard should be raised completely out of the water iif you are very close to the shoreline, exposing the prop to folks behind the boat.  Anchoring a bit further off and wading to shore can mitigate this.

When boats break down and begin drifting, they will end up wherever the wind and waves decide, often against the shoreline and not always on a soft beach, but potentially on damaging rocks.  If your boat stops running while underway, your anchor is your best  safety device.  It’s OK to drift for awhile, and it may actually be a good idea to let the boat drift out of a channel or traffic area, but it’s never a good idea to let the boat drift ashore.  If your boat drifts onto rocks, or is driven up onto the beach, you’re risking damage and additional cost to get her home.  What if you don’t have an anchor?  A bucket tied to the end of a line off the bow of the boat may slow your drift while you’re waiting for a tow to arrive.  If the boat does reach shore, and it’s safe to do so, jump in and try to get the bow aimed at the beach to minimize damage to the running gear and make it easier for us to pull you off.

Why is any of this important?  Well, the potential damage to your boat is a biggie, but it also affects the cost of our assistance.  TowBoatUS Lake Lanier charges $10/foot for soft ungrounding, in addition to our normal hourly charges.  For a 22 foot boat, that takes us an hour to come out, unground and tow, that’s $270 for a non member.  If you are member with unlimited coverage, this is a covered expense.  If you hold limited or no coverage, costs can add up quickly.  Why do we charge for this service?  To get you off the beach, we have to put our boats into the same shallow waters that have you trapped, risking damage to our vessels.  It is not uncommon for us to damage the hull, a propeller, or draw sand or mud into our cooling systems performing this work, taking a boat out of service.

The best advice we can give, is to carry an anchor and sufficient anchor line, even when you don’t plan on anchoring.  If your boat becomes disabled, deploy the anchor sooner rather than later, and keep yourself off of the shoreline.