James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship. This issue - what to do if you run aground



Mark and his wife Julie, along with friends Simon and Jane, are on a weekend cruise on board Mark’s fin keeled Hallberg-Rassy 342. The 11m yacht is Mark’s pride and joy and they sail almost every weekend.

Unfortunately, although the weather is fine, there is almost no wind. There is a huge spring tide, so the best option is to motor up the river near their marina and enjoy the countryside.

A depth gauge on a boat

Nobody wants to see the depth drop to zero as the boat grinds to a halt

Mark and Julie prepare the trip carefully and arrange to be as far-up the river as is navigable just before High Water. This means venturing well into the area of charted drying mud, but as they have both done all the RYA shorebased navigation courses, they are pretty confident in their ability to do a tidal height calculation accurately.

The trip up the river passes without incident, even at the upper limit.

On the way back, Julie gives Simon the helm, instructing him to follow the same track back using the chartplotter.


To ensure they get back to deep water on time, she increases the speed to 5.5 knots. She and Mark then go below to make the lunch.

A few minutes later, they feel the yacht slide to a halt in the mud. Simon had seen what he thought was a wide expanse of deep water and decided it would be quicker to cut a corner rather than steer round the outside of a bend.

Mark takes the helm and puts the yacht hard astern. No movement. He tells the crew to lean the yacht over. Still no movement.

There is no one about to help and if they don’t move they might be there for two weeks. What next?


Although the conditions are calm, this is a pretty serious situation.

It could be argued that they should not have both gone below, leaving their friends to helm at such a critical point of their passage. The debate will have to wait, however, as Mark and Julie need to act fast.

Continues below…

The next step takes a bit of courage. They need to put the helm hard over to steer towards the channel, heel the boat towards the near bank as much as they can, leaning or sitting on the boom and give it full ahead.

James Stevens

James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

It may not move ahead but should pivot. If they keep turning until pointing in the direction they came from and still heeling, they  should escape.

If they really can’t move ahead, they should turn until the mast is towards the bank to keep the boat as upright as possible.

Drying out with the mast towards the deeper water must be avoided, as the boat will lie at a more extreme angle and may well risk flooding when the tide returns.