There are few experienced sailors who have never run aground. The books tell you that careful navigation and good seamanship help avoid hitting the bottom, but in reality, it’s an occupational hazard. Thankfully most groundings result in little more than wounded pride, but some can be potentially dangerous. Once you find yourself aground it’s how to handle the situation and minimise the danger that counts the most.
Unfortunately, there’s no one set of rules to follow, mainly because there are so many different variables which need to be considered, including, bottom composition, keel configuration, state of the tide, wind strength and direction, engine power and the ability/fitness/enthusiasm of your crew ability.
Team Vestas Wind grounding during the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race
Perhaps one of the most most famous grounding of late was that of Team Vestas Wind during the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race. Here’s a short YouTube documentary giving a first hand account of what happened. If you want full details, the 81 page report can be found here. In summary, what caused it?
The simple cause of the stranding was that the crew was completely unaware of the presence of any navigational danger in the vicinity of the boat. Consequently no avoiding actions or precautions were taken that would have prevented the grounding. The Cargados Carajos Shoals were incorrectly thought to be safe to pass over and incorrectly thought to have a minimum charted depth of 40m.
Contributing factors were: 1) Deficient use of electronic charts and other navigational data and a failure to identify the potential danger, and 2) Deficient cartography in presenting the navigational dangers on small and medium scale (or zoomed out) views on the electronic chart system in use.