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Getting Off (The Bottom) Using the Pivot Tactic
by Tom Neale

In my current column and Tom’s Tips section on, about getting off when aground, I mentioned turning your bow with the anchor. Often this won’t work or isn’t practical. If your boat is large enough to have a tender, you may be able to accomplish the same basic effect, much more successfully, with the tender. (Because of the groove you’ve made in the sand or the mud, often your boat will turn easier in a pivot motion than it would going straight forward or in reverse.) This can be a dangerous tactic.

It requires skill of both the operator of the tender and the big boat. But sometimes it’s the best thing that’ll work quickly. If you have approaching weather or other conditions that won’t allow you to wait for professional help, you may decide that it’s worth the risk. Essentially, you place the bow of the dinghy against the bow of your grounded boat, on the shallow water side. You push the bow of your large boat toward deeper water, turning the big boat on its keel. As (if) your boat turns toward deeper water, the person at the helm shifts into gear, turning the rudder to steer toward the deeper water, and tries to motor out. It’s important to cushion the bow of the dinghy in a way that not only will prevent its damaging both boats, but also in a way that will prevent the dinghy from slipping out sideways as you push, possibly injuring its operator (who should be wearing that safety kill switch and a life jacket), possibly even flipping. (We use several layers of heavy wet towels over the rub rail of our aluminum tender. Inflatables may be better suited for this as they are full of air and have relatively flat bows.)

When setting up for the tactic, the dinghy operator should approach the shallow side of the bow gently, and snug the dinghy bow against the side of the big bow far enough forward to get good leverage, but not so far forward that it’ll slip off under the prow, which could cause injury. While pushing, the dinghy operator must carefully control the outboard speed and direction of thrust to prevent the dinghy bow from slipping off the bow of the big boat, with the possible result of hurting the dinghy operator. If the big boat begins to break free, it may at first do so almost imperceptibly. The dinghy operator must see this and adjust his steering angle so that the dinghy bow remains safely and firmly implanted against the bow of and at a right angle to the bow of the large boat. The large boat may then suddenly surge forward as its operator is gunning the engine. The dinghy operator must be ready for this so that the dinghy doesn’t pop out and flip over when it happens. I prefer to not tie the dinghy onto the big boat for this tactic. I want to be able to get the dinghy clear quickly so as to not impede the progress of the big boat. Some prefer to rig a bridle with a towing line from the stern of the dingy to the big bow and try to pull the big boat’s bow around toward deeper water. But I’ve found that I can get more done quicker by pushing. Also, once the big boat surges free, you’ve got to do some real scrambling in the tender to stay out of its way and undo the tow line before it gets into the prop of the outboard or big boat.

Hard bottoms, heavy seas, or approaching storms usually require different tactics. Often the best thing to do in those circumstances (and many others) is to immediately call for professional help, such as TowBoatU.S, as well as trying to extricate yourself, if it is safe to do so. Always remember: personal safety is far more important than property damage. Anytime you’re aground, as is the case with so many other situations in boating, you’re facing certain risks and whatever you do will probably involve other risks. These tactics involve risks. It’ll be your job to decide whether they’re worth taking, weighing possible adverse consequences and risks of whatever you do, and weighing those risks against those of other actions or inaction.


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