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Ground Rules

Running aground is one thing. Properly checking for damage is another.

October 4, 2007
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The more frequently you run your boat, the more likely you are to run her aground. I refer to this phenomenon as “the joy of experiencing local knowledge. Of course, grounding is usually far from joyful, especially if you strike a hard object or if your vessel is traveling at a high rate of speed.

Correctly handling the initial grounding event requires its own set of boathandling techniques. Even after you break free, it’s vital to follow appropriate inspection procedures. Taking the proper steps and looking for damage in the right places will prevent problems that could hinder your cruising enjoyment and lower your yacht’s resale value.

If your crew is OK and you aren’t taking on water, your first step should be to check the integrity of the hull. Do this before you attempt to move from your position. If your running gear is unprotected, rudders, shafts and struts might be bent or even broken away, which can allow water into your yacht.

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Next, take the inspection a step further and consider how quickly you were traveling in the moments before the grounding. This is important when you’re assessing damage. Under normal running conditions, a marine engine transfers energy to the transmission and shaft. That energy is transferred to the propeller. When a propeller strikes an object and causes an engine to stall, the energy is sent in the direction from which it came. If you were traveling quickly, the blades of the propeller may have broken and damaged the shaft.

The grounding may also have caused damage to transmissions, bell housings and motor mounts. This is why it’s vital to get a complete inspection of your engine and transmission. A mechanic should take oil samples and inspect the mounts, crankshaft endplay and cylinder bore scope. In addition, the mechanic should check the transmission’s output coupling for flange run-out.

When a submerged object stops a propeller, the engine wants to twist, just as the propeller does in the water. If the mounting system of an engine is not sound, the engine can lift off the engine beds and fracture mounting hardware. Unless you take time to properly inspect these items, you may find yourself cruising with damaged equipment, which will cause additional damage down the line.

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Due to unusual hull stress on bulkheads and other areas, the boat may have been damaged away from the area of impact. If yours has a fiberglass hull, check the secondary bonding at bulkheads and engine beds. If your boat has a steel or aluminum hull, look for plate and welding damage. If the secondary bonding is damaged, bulkheads can eventually shift, breaking up the tabbing and creating an unseaworthy hull.

If your grounding was severe, you would be prudent to hire a qualified marine surveyor to assess your mechanical and structural damage. The severity of the damage will determine the cost of repairs and how they are performed.

Finally, report the incident to your insurance carrier right away. If you decide to file a claim, the insurance company likely will hire its own marine surveyor, but you should be prepared to hire your own. The investment will pay dividends when it comes to the outcome of the project.

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